Commentary: Canada is an energy superpower — which has imported nearly half a trillion dollars in foreign oil – Mark Milke & Lennie Kaplan

‘For the next few decades at least, Canadians will continue to use oil. The only question is where it will come from?’

By Mark Milke and Lennie Kaplan

Oil ship passing by Old Quebec City. Getty Images photo

Canada is one of the world’s top oil producers with the third-largest proven reserve on the planet. Despite that, Canadians may find it surprising that the country imported nearly 241 million barrels of oil in 2019, with a value of nearly $19 billion. 

In addition to that surprise, our guess is that most people also don’t know just how much foreign oil have flowed into various provinces, or where much of it originates. This matters as while some rhetorically “oppose” oil, i.e., Canadian extraction and consumption, the reality is that domestic oil consumption needs will be met either by Canadians or with imported foreign oil 

On oil imports and tracking the data from 1988 to 2019, Canada imported over 8.7 billion barrels of crude oil from other countries, an average of nearly 749,000 barrels per 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 foreign oil arriving in Canada came from the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom and Algeria. Those were the top four sources of foreign oil when all three decades’ worth of oil imports are tallied up. 

But dive into data between 2010 and 2019, and the two top suppliers alone, the United States and Saudi Arabia, account for $100 billion worth of foreign 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 foreign oil imports in the last decade.  

Algeria and Norway were next with oil sales to Canada worth $17.1 billion and $16.8 billion, respectivelywith 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.)   

When discussing oil in 2020, a question that arises is: Will demand be there five or fifty years from now? Many people have opinions on this but forecasts rooted in facts and technological capabilities are rarer. An example of an informed opinion comes from the University of Manitoba’s Vaclav Smil, professor emeritus of the environment.  

Smil, for those unfamiliar with him, is the world energy expert in energy transitions. He would prefer a move away from fossil fuels and also accepts that carbon emissions contribute to global warming.  

That’s his preference and stance. 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 

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