Just how much oil does Canada import every year? The answer is shocking actually, considering that Canada has the third largest proven oil reserves in the world.
Looking at the Canadian International Merchandise Trade Database, Canada imported approximately $18.9 billion of crude oil in 2019, down slightly from $19.2 billion in 2018 but up versus $17.1 billion in 2017.
A more detailed look in this chart below:
How Much Oil Canada Has Imported - Chart: 2015-2019
Foreign Crude Oil Imports Into Canada - 2015-2019
Adding the value of crude oil Canada has imported from above shows some of our country's major suppliers over the past five years:
> United States ($52.5 billion)
> Saudi Arabia ($12.7 billion)
> Nigeria ($4.63 billion)
> Norway ($3.8 billion)
> Azerbaijan ($3.26 billion)
> United Kingdom ($1.4 billion)
Don't forget the billions more from other African and European countries.
The figures above don't even include light oils and other products / chemicals derived from petroleum. In 2018, for example, Canada imported more than $14 billion worth of this type of classification, while in 2017 that figure dropped slightly to nearly $11 billion.
Part of the reason why Canada imports so much foreign oil is because of the lack of pipeline infrastructure connecting the petroleum-rich provinces of the west to the east.
How Much Oil Do Canadian Provinces Import?
So, how much oil does Canada import into different parts of the country? If you’ve guessed most comes into the Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces, you’re correct.
The lack of pipeline infrastructure from the west - where the world’s third largest oil reserves are found in the Alberta oil sands – to the eastern part of the country is apparent in this pipeline infrastructure map.
Notice how the few pipelines heading east, if they do connect to Ontario do so through the United States.
Crude Oil & Rail Infrastructure - NRC
This lack of critical pipeline infrastructure is the reason why the eastern and Atlantic provinces rely on massive quantities of foreign oil imports for supply, despite the reversal / expansion of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline which has allowed Ontario and Quebec refineries to source more oil from North America.
Because of the lack of pipeline, sea-faring oil tankers must fill the void. Major tanker routes into Canada include the St. Lawrence River which sees more than 500,000 barrels of petroleum products sail to refineries in Quebec each day.
New Brunswick's Irving Refinery also relies almost entirely on foreign oil imports via tanker and railway, although it does sometimes process offshore blends from the east coast. Irving is Canada’s largest refinery with a feedstock capacity of more than 320,000 barrels a day.
Foreign Oil Imports Into Canadian Provinces - Chart: 2015-2019
Foreign Crude Oil Imports by Province - 2015-2019
It's critical to note that not all oil imports into Canada are the same; their nature differ when it comes to the west and east.
You might be astonished that Alberta and Saskatchewan, which together account for over 90% of Canada’s crude oil production, imported hundreds of millions of foreign crude from 2015 to 2019.
Alberta’s oil imports, for example, are mainly condensate or diluent from the United States which is then mixed with bitumen to facilitate transportation by pipeline. Meanwhile, oil imports into the eastern and Atlantic provinces come mainly from the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Note the provinces with a simple dash which got oil entirely from domestic sources, kind of like how Prince Edward Island gets most of its gas from refinery output at Irving.
Canadian Oil Could Replace Imported Foreign Crude Oil in the East
So, the question remains: how much of the oil imported by the eastern and Atlantic provinces could be replaced by Canadian oil if a pipeline were built like the now defunct Energy East project?
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t as simple as saying “build the pipeline and replace all foreign oil,” although doing so would help some eastern refineries turn a higher profit and reduce emissions (as found by CERI below) while also allowing Canada to export its ethically produced oil to Europe and Asia to meet some of the growing global demand.
The Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) examined this topic in Study #167 – An Economic and Environmental Assessment of Eastern Canadian Crude Oil Imports released in January of 2018. Their findings are based on four scenarios:
Made in Canada – where all foreign oil imported into Canada is replaced with domestic oil regardless of the cost. This scenario considers the effect of expanded pipeline infrastructure in Eastern Canada.
Expanded Access – where less expensive Canadian crude is substituted in for imported foreign oil, with a new pipeline connecting the eastern and western parts of the country for new domestic supply.
Current Reality – where existing pipeline infrastructure is used but Canadian crude replaces foreign oil in central and eastern Canadian refineries, but not the full amount relative to commodity prices and the associated economic feasibility of doing so.
International Social Concerns – where Canadian crude is substituted for imported oil from nations that have serious social concerns i.e. poor living standards, low food security, tarnished human rights, non-existent environmental protection, etc.
This study considers costs and how greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) would be affected if Canadian crude were to replace foreign oil under these given scenarios.
Note: CERI’s study is quite complex. For further understanding of the scenarios mentioned above, it’s recommended you read the report.
CERI – Chart: Four Scenarios, Replacing Foreign Oil with Canadian Oil
Key Conclusions under the Four Scenarios - CERI
Three of the four given scenarios harbour positive economic results ranging from savings of $23 million to $317 million, and a reduction of CO2 equivalent between 2 to 2.2 million tonnes per annum.
Two of the three positive scenarios call for a new pipeline, while the third (without new infrastructure) takes into account Canadian crude supplies that are cheaper than their imported counterparts only.
We should all be astonished by CERI's findings that showed in all scenarios evaluated GHGs drop.
We'd be helping Canada decrease emissions and move towards becoming energy self-sufficient while also benefiting local, regional and national economies if we were to build a pipeline to connect eastern refineries to western supply.
We'd also be buying oil at WCS market prices -- much lower than the WTI or Brent crude benchmarks because of the oil price discount.
That money would be earned and spent in our economy, not paid to a foreign producer who isn't as high ranking for environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria as we are.
Canada Needs to Be Self-Sufficient for its Energy Demand
After studying CERI’s report, the questions we should all be asking are:
Q: How much oil does Canada import from domestic sources?
Q: What economic benefits does more domestic oil being used in the eastern parts of the country bring?
It’s important to point out that the added employment opportunities and economic contribution of doing so is not evaluated in CERI’s report. That would include billions in government revenues which could pay for schools, doctors and social programs across the country.
Two more questions we should ask ourselves as Canadians isn't only “how much oil does Canada import,” but rather:
Q: How much oil does Canada export?
Q: What are the socio-economic benefits of expanded export capacity to international markets other than the U.S.?
How Much Oil Does Canada Import? Way Too Much!
Comparing the price of Canadian heavy oil to Mexican heavy oil on 03/27/2020.— Oil Sands Action (@OilsandsAction) April 1, 2020
The big difference? Mexico has adequate pipeline infrastructure.#TMX and #KeystoneXL are critical projects of national importance to maximize the value of our resources. pic.twitter.com/8PC80pvjfr
Polls show that across the country a majority of Canadians are more supportive of using energy from domestic sources than from foreign sources. Even in Quebec where it’s been said in recent years that there is “no social license” for a new oil pipeline, two out of three Quebecers support using oil and gas from Western Canada versus having it imported from countries like Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.
Another poll by Nanos Research shows about 80 per cent of Canadians support a long-term role for the oil and gas industry as long as it operates in an environmentally friendly and responsible way. Furthermore, two-thirds agree that Canadian oil and gas can be useful in displacing higher emission sources such as coal in developing parts of the world like Asia.
It seems Canadians from coast-to-coast are starting to realize our oil and gas industry is world-class when it comes to clean technology, GHG emission reductions and innovation, while also being a vital part of the economy.
Like the majority of Canadians, we believe Canada should be using as much oil from domestic sources as possible and a supplier of choice as oil demand continues to grow over the decades to come.
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