Voluntary OPEC production cuts have been contributing to reduced U.S. crude oil imports from OPEC so far in 2021. Comparatively stable U.S. crude oil imports from Canada, however, have been mostly the result of longer-term trends. Between 2005 and 2020, U.S. crude oil imports from OPEC members decreased rapidly, but imports from non-OPEC members remained relatively high. In particular, U.S. crude oil imports from Canada more than doubled to average 3.6 million b/d in 2020, which was more than the combined total of crude oil imports from all other countries.
Because of increased domestic production of light crude oil, U.S. imports of medium and light crude oils have decreased while U.S. imports of heavier crude oils have remained comparatively stable. This trend has resulted in declining crude oil imports from OPEC member countries because OPEC has historically exported medium and light crude oil grades to the United States. In contrast, imports from Canada and other non-OPEC countries that have historically exported heavy crude oil grades have remained relatively stable. In 2020, crude oil imports from OPEC averaged 816,000 b/d, the lowest level in annual EIA data (which dates back to 1973), while imports of 3.6 million b/d from Canada were the third-highest on record, after 2019 and 2018.
U.S. imports of crude oil from Canada have generally had lower landed costs (the price at the port of discharge, including charges associated with the purchase, transportation, and insurance) than crude oil imports from other countries. These low costs have encouraged U.S. crude oil imports from Canada. However, pipeline capacity to deliver crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast is limited, and the final delivery point for most U.S. imports of crude oil from Canada has been the Midwest.
Note: Heavy crude oil has an API gravity of lower than or equal to 27.0, medium crude oil is between 27.1 and 34.9, and light crude oil is higher than or equal to 35.0.
Canada produced record amounts of crude oil in 2019, which supported record U.S. crude oil imports from Canada of 3.8 million b/d. In 2020, U.S. crude oil imports from Canada fell 6% as total U.S. crude oil imports fell by 14%.
For more detailed information on this topic, please see our This Week in Petroleum article published on April 28.
Principal contributors: Jozef Lieskovsky, Matt French, Richard Yan