This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

June 23, 2010

Study: Canadian Oil Sands Could Lead U.S. Oil Imports This Year

Canadian oil sands are a growing source of petroleum, and by the end of this year, they'll probably be the leading source of crude oil imports into the United States, according to a new study by IHS CERA. Canada is already the primary source of crude oil imports into the United States, and the country has been steadily increasing its production of crude oil from oil sands while its conventional oil production has declined. Production from oil sands more than doubled over the past nine years, growing from 600,000 barrels per day in 2000 to 1.35 million barrels per day in 2009. Assuming that production rate is sustained this year, oil sands will produce more petroleum than conventional sources in Canada this year, and U.S. imports of petroleum from Canadian oil sands will be greater than imports from any other country. According to IHS, Canadian oil sands could provide 20%-36% of U.S. oil imports by 2030. See the IHS press release and report (PDF 558 KB). Download Adobe Reader.

The production of crude oil from Canadian oil sands is at issue due to its environmental impacts, including water and land use, the production of tailings, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A 2005 study by DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) found that the production of crude oil from Canadian oil sands (actually a mix of tar-like crude bitumen and synthetic crude oil) has GHG emissions equivalent to 104 kilograms of carbon dioxide per barrel, more than four times the GHG emissions caused by producing conventional crude oil in the United States. But the study also found that crude oil production in Nigeria has even higher GHG emissions—equivalent to 130 kilograms of carbon dioxide per barrel—due to the flaring of any natural gas released during production of the oil. Overall, the mix of crude oils used in the United States released the equivalent of 40 kilograms of carbon dioxide per barrel during their production. Of course, the GHG emissions of fuels are primarily caused by burning them. The NETL study examined the life-cycle emissions of gasoline, diesel fuel, and jet fuel, and for each fuel, the emissions caused by burning the fuel were roughly 10 times greater than the emissions caused by producing the crude oil used in those fuels. See pages ES-3 and 12-13 (PDF pages 27 and 46-47) of the NETL report (PDF 3.5 MB).