This article was published by the Canada Energy Regulator on August 16, 2023.
Canada imported its lowest amount of crude oil in more than 30 years in 2022, continuing a trend that started in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Crude oil imports decreased 1 per cent to 467,000 barrels per day (b/d) in 2022, down from 473,000 b/d in 2021 and 227,000 b/d less than 2019 before the pandemic. While Canadian refineries’ demand for crude oil has generally recovered to pre-pandemic levels, the drop in imports is largely due to the closure of the Come-by-Chance Refinery in Newfoundland and Labrador, along with increased western Canadian crude oil production and the ability for more of that crude oil to reach Ontario and Quebec by pipeline.(1)
Figure 1: Annual Canadian crude oil imports
The total cost of imported crude oil was $21.5 billion in 2022, 46 per cent higher than the $14.7 billion cost in 2021. This increase was primarily because global crude oil prices spiked in 2022, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, causing global supply security concerns, along with general demand recovery relative to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The average cost of an imported barrel was $126 in 2022, relative to $85 in 2021.
Refineries need crude oil as feedstock to produce refined petroleum products (RPPs) such as gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and jet fuel. Each refinery operator makes the decision of where to source its crude oil feedstock based on several factors including the grade of crude oil, oil pricing, availability of local supply, cost of transportation, and other logistical considerations.
Although Canada produces more crude oil than needed by Canadian refineries, refineries in certain provinces still import crude oil. In general, provinces with refineries located further from western Canadian production sources – namely Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick – consistently import the most crude oil. Provinces located near domestic crude oil production with a direct pipeline connection generally do not need to import crude oil.
New Brunswick imported more crude oil than any other province again in 2022, continuing this trend since 2016. Canada’s largest refinery, the Irving Refinery in Saint John, is not connected to crude oil pipelines, so it relies on marine shipments for its crude oil feedstock. Quebec imports the second largest amount of crude oil in Canada, followed by Ontario. Quebec’s Valero Refinery, the second largest refinery in Canada, also relies on marine shipments. While Ontario’s refineries are connected by pipeline, some receive small amounts by marine shipments when the St. Lawrence Seaway is free of ice.
Figure 2: Annual crude oil imports by province
Where does Canada’s imported oil come from?
The United States (U.S.) is the largest source of Canada’s imported crude oil. In 2022, 72 per cent of Canada’s crude oil imports came from the U.S., compared to 66 per cent in 2021. Canada imported nearly 26,000 b/d more from the U.S. in 2022 than in the prior year. Most of the crude oil imported from the U.S. comes from the Gulf Coast, followed by the Midwest regions.(2)
In 2022, Canada imported 9,000 b/d more crude oil from Saudi Arabia than the year before. Canada imported 50 per cent less oil from Nigeria relative to the prior year and did not import oil from Azerbaijan in 2022, reflecting drops of 31,000 b/d and 11,000 b/d, respectively. Canada has not imported crude oil from the Russian Federation since 2019, and the Government of Canada sanctioned Russian crude oil imports following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in early 2022.(3) Over the past decade, crude oil imports from Russia have been low-to-zero, except for 2019, when 18,000 b/d were imported from Russia, making up 3 per cent of Canada’s total imported crude oil that year.