January 20th, 2021

Canada’s reliance on oil imports

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on September 24, 2020.

Country’s importing of foreign oil won’t change any time soon

Mark Milke and Lennie Kaplan


When forecasting future oil consumption around the world, many people have opinions and agendas. Forecasts rooted in facts and technological capabilities are more rare.

An example of an informed opinion comes from Vaclav Smil, professor emeritus of the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Environment.

Smil is an expert in energy transitions. He would prefer a move away from fossil fuels and he accepts that carbon emissions contribute to global warming.

However, Smil’s data-based, empirical work, and his resulting view on a possible transition from such fuels to others, was summed up in his recent paper for the University of Saskatchewan’s Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy: “Designing hypothetical roadmaps outlining complete elimination of fossil carbon from the global energy supply by 2050 is nothing but an exercise in wishful thinking that ignores fundamental physical realities.”

That context is critical for Canadians. It means that the key choice is more straightforward: For the next few decades at least, Canadians will continue to use oil. The only question is where it will come from – domestic or foreign sources, or both (most likely), and in what proportions.

Our guess is that most people don’t know just how much foreign oil has been imported into Canada, into which provinces and where it originates. While some people rhetorically “oppose” oil – Canadian extraction and consumption – the reality is that domestic oil consumption needs will be met either by Canadians or with imported oil.

Canada imported over 8.7 billion barrels of crude oil from other countries between 1988 and 2019, an average of nearly 749,000 barrels a day over the period. Those foreign barrels of oil were worth $477 billion in nominal dollars (and $587 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars).

Many of the source countries have changed over the decades. Initially, much of the oil arriving in Canada came from the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom and Algeria. Those are the top four sources of foreign oil when all three decades’ worth of oil imports are tallied up.

But between 2010 and 2019, the two top suppliers alone – the United States and Saudi Arabia – account for $100 billion worth of oil imports ($75 billion from the U.S and $25 billion from Saudi Arabia). That accounted for 46 per cent of the $220 billion in oil imports in the last decade.

Algeria and Norway were next with oil sales to Canada worth $17.1 billion and $16.8 billion, respectively, with multiple other countries supplying the rest in smaller amounts. Russia, for example, exported $2.2 billion worth of oil to Canada in the last decade.

Narrow down oil imports just to 2019 and the Americans and Saudis are even more dominant. They shipped oil worth $13.8 billion and $3.1 billion respectively into Canada, or 89 per cent of $19 billion in total oil imports last year.

Where did the $477 billion in oil imports between 1988 and 2019 end up?

Fully $225 billion or 47 per cent flowed into Quebec. Next was New Brunswick with $129 billion or 27 per cent (explained in part by a refinery in Saint John). The other provinces took the remaining 26 per cent.

A number of factors explain Canada’s level of crude oil imports, including the type of oil a refinery processes and ongoing pipeline constraints. Given such complexities and the need for open markets and flexibility of supply, it would be a mistake to advocate protectionist measures.

But where governments can make it easier for Canadians to develop domestic oil supplies, be it in Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec (which has reserves), Saskatchewan, British Columbia or Alberta, it would be reasonable to do just that.

Mark Milke and Lennie Kaplan are with the Canadian Energy Centre, an Alberta government corporation funded in part by taxes paid by industry on carbon emissions. They are authors of “Foreign oil imports to Canada: $477 billion between 1988 and 2019.” Distributed by Troy Media.

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Southern Albertan

Certainly, Saudi Arabia, USA, Russia, Norway….are the big energy players and big drivers of global oil economics to which Alberta, in particular, is unwisely beholden. Much of Canada’s imported oil is light oil which requires much less refining than bitumen, and at much lower cost. This is why companies left Alberta’s tarsands for the USA to join the shale energy explosion there. It’s all about economics.
Remember this? $26 billion boondoggle….
“This Bitumen Boondoggle is costing Alberta’s taxpayer billions. Mad about billions going to Bombardier? Sturgeon Refinery saga will make your head explode.”
Perhaps at the time when Premier Peter Lougheed’s ‘Six Principles’ for resource development included, ‘Add value,’ adding value should have done in the years when setting up refineries was more affordable during the boom years. Too late now.


it is disgusting that canada imports oil when we can produce what we need right here. minimising the transport of oil, particularly on and around water and sensitive ecosystems, should have long been a priority. moreover, to import oil from the likes of a rogue, human rights violating state like saudi arabia is downright dastardly. what we have is another example of how the greed of a few trumps sustainable living and respect for the lifeforms on this planet.


OMG We do have another issue that we agree on biff, now I am the one getting that wet eye thing!


haha! i guess these serve as reminders that there is common ground for the so-called left and right on many matters. perhaps,we can file the “use cdn oil” for canada in the “fuel for thought” category.


SA. Yes you are right that Alberta Oil needs more energy to make useful fuel than from South Arabia’s near surface fresh oil. But what you seem to be missing is the S. Arabia types of oil well are old and will deplete in the near future. When these wells are depleted we will exploit more difficult wells from which to make our fuels, which require more energy and cost. For example even now we use subsea oil wells which require as much energy as the Alberta Oil to extract and make useful fuel.
Meanwhile, the world will need more oil – Much, much more Oil in spite of the opposite view from misinformed claimants like our prime minister yesterday. This is not a personal venting or wishful thinking it is straight math. Let’s assume that wind and Solar can fill our needs as a country – Which they don’t. Right now their contribution is still 6% and 1%. of our electricity needs. We need to replace not only our electricity demand today but to add the transportation, construction, farming, space heating and AC. Production of steel, concrete and fertilizers. The industry will also have to change their processes for making steel, concrete, fertilizer, paints and to replace all internal combustion motors. Replacing gas stations with charging stations will also be a major task. I can go ON listing here the areas that will need to change, but you get the meaning. All these tasks will need billions of tones of materials to be mined, transported, refined, manufactured components and make and erect equipment. Each of these tasks will require industrial grade of energy. Ask yourself where we will get all this energy since today 85% of our total energy comes from Oil? How fast can a net Zero be achieved? I would guess :some time before 2100 because we don’t have the resources, the trained people and the surplus of Trillions of dollars annually that will be needed. We have not even made a plan of where to start. Boat Canada will soon hit the reefs of reality but no investor will come here easily.


Once again, a lot of ‘straight math’ about the status quo, which is meaningless without acknowledging the impact of climate change on industrial society.


creating roads and setting up gas stations – and creating a network to fill pumps around the continent – all was a major task…and far more so than will be the establishment of recharging stations.
i think, however, that few will disagree oil will be required as the primary energy for some years to come. perhaps where the disagreements are most are around how much oil will be required, at what point can the world be using less oil/be less oil dependent, and how soon will alternative renewable options be available, dependable, and whether they will actually prove to be a net cleaner option.
as it stands, windmills as they are now are a massive net negative: from the dirty energy required to mine, manufacture, and transport the materials; to the recyclable waste and toxic mess that are their legacy; to environmental and health hazards they are, with regard to killing swaths of birds , bats and all that flies in their wake, as well as the documented adverse health effects upon those that live near them.
solar also brings some similar concerns, most of which revolve around the dirty energy require to mine and manufacture, and the disposal of toxic waste related to spent batteries and materials.
the way forward needs to be more honest and imbued with far more integrity than anything that has been undertaken to date. to date, this has not been the path. it seems lining of pockets of the usual cast of well placed continues to be the driving force. public money being given hand over foot to private entities in the name of green plans. in return, the public gets nothing; the cronies keep on getting it all. it is no wonder why big oil is happy to go green: they are getting their pockets filled with yet more mountains of public green.


How do these guys continue to put together such nice book reports since their $30 million government (yet unaccountable) funding got pared back a bit? Here’s to you, Mark and Lennie!