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Canadian Energy Centre

The importance of Canadian crude oil to refineries in the U.S.


8 minute read

From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Ven Venkatachalam

Oil from Canada supplies more than 23% of U.S. refinery feedstock, helping bolster North American energy security


The refining industry¹ in the United States is one of the world’s largest, with capacity to process 18 million barrels of oil per day. Canada plays a crucial role by supplying more than one-fifth of the crude oil refined in the U.S.

The U.S.–Canada cross-border crude oil trade is essential to North American energy security. Canadian crude oil exports and the U.S. refinery industry are highly integrated. In recent years, Canada’s crude oil sector has been making a growing contribution to the operations of U.S. oil refineries.

U.S. refineries are converting Canadian crude oil, including heavy oil,² into products that North Americans use daily, such as transportation fuels (gasoline and diesel), chemicals, and plastics. Although the U.S. has increased its production of oil in recent years, U.S. refineries still rely on Canadian heavy crude oil to meet their feedstock (i.e., the raw materials and intermediate materials processed at refineries to produce finished petroleum products, otherwise known as refinery inputs) specifications.

In this CEC Fact Sheet, we examine several economic indicators that illustrate the importance of Canadian crude oil, particularly heavy crude, to U.S. refineries. This fact sheet also analyzes the refining industry’s direct and indirect economic impacts on the U.S. economy.

1. NAICS Code 324110 (Petroleum Refineries): This industry comprises
establishments primarily engaged in refining crude petroleum into refined petroleum.

2. A majority of the crude oil imported by the U.S. from Canada is heavy crude (between 15-25 API gravity). API gravity is a commonly used index for measuring the density of crude oil or refined products. Crude oil typically has an API between 15 and 45 degrees. The higher the API, the lighter the crude; the lower the API, the heavier the crude.

Imports of Canadian crude oil to refineries in the United States

The physical characteristics of crude oil determine how it is processed in refineries. Generally, heavy crude oil offers higher yields of low-value products (coke and asphalt) and lower yields of high-value products (gasoline). Heavy crude oil requires more complicated processing than lighter crude if it is to produce high-value products.

Overall, Canadian crude oil imports to U.S. refineries for processing have risen from over 1.3 million barrels per day in 2000 to just under 3.8 million barrels per day in 2022, an increase of 181 per cent (see Figure 1). The per cent of Canadian crude in U.S. refinery feedstock has steadily risen from nearly 9 per cent in 2000 to over 23 per cent by the end of 2022.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (2024a, 2024b, 2024c)

The U.S. refining industry

Since the first U.S. refinery began operating in 1861, the refining industry has been one of the largest manufacturing sectors in the United States. There are currently 129 petroleum refineries across the five U.S. PADDS³ (125 operating refineries and five refineries that are idle but not permanently shut down) (see Table 1).

3. The United States is divided into five Petroleum Administration for Defense 
Districts (PADDs) for the allocation of fuels derived from petroleum products, 
including gasoline and diesel fuel. The geographic breakdown of PADDs enables 
U.S. policymakers to better analyze petroleum supplies in the country
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (2023)

Total refining capacity in the United States has risen from 16.2 million barrels of crude processed in 2000 to nearly 17.8 million barrels per day in 2022, an increase of over 8 per cent (see Figure 2). The refining utilization⁴ has also recovered, growing from 79 per cent during COVID-19 to a high of 91 per cent in 2022.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration (2024b)

The impact of the U.S. refining industry on the American economy

The estimated direct and indirect economic impacts of the U.S. refining industry in 2024 include 1.6 million direct and indirect jobs, $206 billion in labour income, $577 billion in direct and indirect value-added, and $1.6 trillion in what is known as “outputs,” i.e., the value of goods and services produced by the industry (see Table 2).⁵

4. Capacity measures how much crude oil refineries are able to process. 
Utilization measures how much is actually being processed (as a percentage of 
maximum capacity). 
5. These projected amounts are in nominal U.S. dollars
Source: Author’s calculations using the IMPLAN modelling system. Details may not add up to totals due to rounding

Projected spending by the U.S. refining industry, 2024-2030

Figure 3 illustrates the industry’s projected annual spending between 2024 and 2030. Industry spending is expected to be US$58 billion in 2024, rising to US$62 billion by 2030. This includes operating expenditures (OPEX) and capital expenditures (CAPEX). Cumulatively, between 2024 and 2030, the industry is projected to spend over US$428 billion.⁶

6. These projected amounts are in nominal U.S. dollars and are calculated using 
the Rystad Energy UCube.
Source: Derived from Rystad Energy (2024), Service Market Solution


American refineries are critical to the country’s strategic interest. U.S. refineries are projected to spend more than $428 billion in the next seven years on operating and capital expenditures. The industries support millions of jobs. Canadian crude is an important part of the equation. It supplies more than 23 per cent of U.S. refinery feedstock.

Not only are Canadian crude oil supplies critical for the U.S. refining industry, but they are key to North American energy security. Limiting access to Canadian crude oil for U.S. refineries would require increased U.S. imports from less-free countries, which in turn would risk North American energy security.


Rystad Energy (2024), Service Market Solution <>; U.S. Energy Information Administration (Undated), Oil and Petroleum Products Explained: Refining Crude Oil <>; U.S. Energy Information Administration (2023), Refinery Capacity Report <>; U.S. Energy Information Administration (2024a), Petroleum and Other Liquids: PADD District Imports by Country of Origin <>; U.S. Energy Information Administration (2024b), Petroleum and Other Liquids: Refinery Utilization and Capacity <>; U.S. Energy Information Administration (2024c), Petroleum and Other Liquids: U.S. Imports by Country of Origin <>; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Undated), Appendix A — Overview of Petroleum Refining, Proposed Clean Fuels Refinery DEIS <>.

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Game changer: Trans Mountain pipeline expansion complete and starting to flow Canada’s oil to the world

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Workers complete the “golden weld” of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on April 11, 2024 in the Fraser Valley between Hope and Chilliwack, B.C. The project saw mechanical completion on April 30, 2024. Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Will Gibson

‘We’re going to be moving into a market where buyers are going to be competing to buy Canadian oil’

It is a game changer for Canada that will have ripple effects around the world.  

The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion is now complete. And for the first time, global customers can access large volumes of Canadian oil, with the benefits flowing to Canada’s economy and Indigenous communities.  

“We’re going to be moving into a market where buyers are going to be competing to buy Canadian oil,” BMO Capital Markets director Randy Ollenberger said recently, adding this is expected to result in a better price for Canadian oil relative to other global benchmarks. 

The long-awaited expansion nearly triples capacity on the Trans Mountain system from Edmonton to the West Coast to approximately 890,000 barrels per day. Customers for the first shipments include refiners in China,  California and India, according to media reports.  

Shippers include all six members of the Pathways Alliance, a group of companies representing 95 per cent of oil sands production that together plan to reduce emissions from operations by 22 megatonnes by 2030 on the way to net zero by 2050.  

The first tanker shipment from Trans Mountain’s expanded Westridge Marine Terminal is expected later in May.

Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

 The new capacity on the Trans Mountain system comes as demand for Canadian oil from markets outside the United States is on the rise.  

According to the Canada Energy Regulator, exports to destinations beyond the U.S. have averaged a record 267,000 barrels per day so far this year, up from about 130,000 barrels per day in 2020 and 33,000 barrels per day in 2017. 

“Oil demand globally continues to go up,” said Phil Skolnick, New York-based oil market analyst with Eight Capital.  

“Both India and China are looking to add millions of barrels a day of refining capacity through 2030.” 

In India, refining demand will increase mainly for so-called medium and heavy oil like what is produced in Canada, he said. 

“That’s where TMX is the opportunity for Canada, because that’s the route to get to India.”  

Led by India and China, oil demand in the Asia-Pacific region is projected to increase from 36 million barrels per day in 2022 to 52 million barrels per day in 2050, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

More oil coming from Canada will shake up markets for similar world oil streams including from Russia, Ecuador, and Iraq, according to analysts with Rystad Energy and Argus Media. 

Expanded exports are expected to improve pricing for Canadian heavy oil, which “have been depressed for many years” in part due to pipeline shortages, according to TD Economics.  

Photo courtesy Trans Mountain Corporation

 In recent years, the price for oil benchmark Western Canadian Select (WCS) has hovered between $18-$20 lower than West Texas Intermediate (WTI) “to reflect these hurdles,” analyst Marc Ercolao wrote in March 

“That spread should narrow as a result of the Trans Mountain completion,” he wrote. 

“Looking forward, WCS prices could conservatively close the spread by $3–4/barrel later this year, which will incentivize production and support industry profitability.”  

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office has said that an increase of US$5 per barrel for Canadian heavy oil would add $6 billion to Canada’s economy over the course of one year. 

The Trans Mountain Expansion will leave a lasting economic legacy, according to an impact assessment conducted by Ernst & Young in March 2023.  

In addition to $4.9 billion in contracts with Indigenous businesses during construction, the project leaves behind more than $650 million in benefit agreements and $1.2 billion in skills training with Indigenous communities.   

Ernst & Young found that between 2024 and 2043, the expanded Trans Mountain system will pay $3.7 billion in wages, generate $9.2 billion in GDP, and pay $2.8 billion in government taxes. 

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Canadian Energy Centre

North America LNG project cost competitiveness

Published on

Construction workers look on at the FortisBC Tilbury LNG expansion project in Delta, B.C., Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. CP Images photo

From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Ven Venkatachalam

Lower costs for natural gas, shipping and liquefaction give Canada an edge in the emerging global LNG market

Worldwide concerns about energy security have put a renewed focus on the international liquefied natural gas (LNG) industry. The global demand for LNG is expected to increase over the next few decades.

Global demand growth will be driven primarily by Asian markets where the need for LNG is expected to increase from 277 million tonnes (MT) in 2025 to 509 MT by 2050 (see Figure 1). By 2050 the demand for LNG in Europe will be 83 MT and in Africa 20 MT. In South America too, demand will increase – from 13 MT in 2025 to 31 MT in 2050.

Source: Derived from Rystad Energy, Gas and LNG Markets Solution.

In North America (Canada, Mexico, and United States) a number of LNG projects that are either under construction or in the planning stages will benefit from the rise in global LNG demand.

North American LNG production is expected to grow from 112 MT in 2025 to over 255 MT by 2050 (see Figure 2). In Canada, the LNG projects under construction or in the planning stages include LNG Canada Phases 1 & 2, Woodfibre LNG, Cedar LNG, the Tilbury LNG expansion, and Ksi Lisims LNG. Canada’s LNG production is expected to grow from just 2 MT in 2025 to over 43 MT by 2050. In the United States production is projected to increase from 108 MT in 2025 to 210 MT in 2050.

Source: Derived from Rystad Energy, Gas and LNG Markets Solution.

This CEC Fact Sheet uses Rystad Energy’s Gas and LNG Markets Solution¹ to benchmark the cost competitiveness of LNG projects that are under construction and proposed in Canada compared to other LNG projects under construction and planned elsewhere in North America. (Note that the content of this report does not represent the views of Rystad Energy.)

The LNG cost competitiveness benchmarking analysis used the following performance metrics:

  • LNG plant free-on-board (FOB) cost break-even;
  • Total LNG plant cost (for delivery into Asia and Europe).

The objective of this LNG cost competitiveness benchmarking is to compare the competitiveness of Canadian LNG projects against those of major competitors in the United States and Mexico. The selection of other North American LNG facilities for the benchmark comparison with Canadian LNG projects (LNG Canada, the Tilbury LNG Expansion, Woodfibre LNG, Cedar LNG, and Ksi Lisims LNG) is based on the rationale that virtually all Canadian LNG plants are under construction or in the planning stage and that they compare well with other North American LNG plants that are also under construction or are being planned between 2023 and 2050. Further, to assess the cost competitiveness of the various LNG projects more accurately, we chose only North American LNG facilities with sufficient economic data to enable such a comparison. We compared the cost competitiveness of LNG coming from these other North American projects with LNG coming from Canada that is intended to be delivered to markets in Asia and Europe.

1. Rystad Energy is an independent energy research company providing data, analytics, and consultancy services to clients around the globe. Its Gas and LNG Markets Solution provides an overview of LNG markets worldwide. The Solution covers the entire value chain associated with gas and LNG production, country and sector-level demand, and LNG trade flows, infrastructure, economics, costs, and contracts through 2050. It allows for the evaluation of the entire LNG market infrastructure, including future planned projects, as well as the benchmarking of costs for LNG projects (Rystad Energy, 2024).

Comparison of LNG project FOB cost break-even (full cycle)

Figure 3 provides a comparison of the free-on-board (FOB) cost break-even for LNG facilities under construction or being planned in North America. FOB break-even costs include upstream and midstream costs for LNG excluding transportation costs (shipping) as seen from the current year. Break-even prices assume a discount rate of 10 percent and represent the point at which the net present value for an LNG project over a 20- to 30-year period becomes positive, including the payment of capital and operating costs, inclusive of taxes.

Among the selected group of North American LNG projects are Canadian LNG projects with an FOB break-even at the lower end of the range (US$7.18 per thousand cubic feet (kcf)) to those at the higher end (US$8.64 per thousand cubic feet (kcf)).

LNG projects in the United States tend to settle in the middle of the pack, with FOB break-even between US$6.44 per kcf and US$8.37 per kcf.

Mexico LNG projects have the widest variation in costs among the selected group of projects, ranging from US$6.94 per kcf to US$9.44 per kcf (see Figure 3).

Source: Derived from Rystad Energy, Gas and LNG Markets Solution.

Total costs by project for LNG delivery to Asia and Europe

The total cost by LNG plant includes FOB cost break-even, transportation costs, and the regasification tariff. Figure 4 compares total project costs for LNG destined for Asia from selected North American LNG facilities.

Canadian LNG projects are very cost competitive, and those with Asia as their intended market tend to cluster at the lower end of the scale. The costs vary by project, but range between US$8.10 per kcf and US$9.56 per kcf, making Canadian LNG projects among the lowest cost projects in North America.

The costs for Mexico’s LNG projects with Asia as the intended destination for their product tend to cluster in the middle of the pack. Costs among U.S. LNG facilities that plan to send their product to Asia tend to sit at the higher end of the scale, at between US$8.90 and US$10.80 per kcf.

Source: Derived from Rystad Energy, Gas and LNG Markets Solution.

Figure 5 compares total project costs for LNG to be delivered to Europe from select North American LNG facilities.

Costs from U.S. LNG facilities show the widest variation for this market at between US$7.48 per kcf and US$9.42 per kcf, but the majority of U.S. LNG facilities tend to cluster at the lower end of the cost scale, between US$7.48 per kcf and US$8.61 per kcf (see Figure 5).

Canadian projects that intend to deliver LNG to Europe show a variety of costs that tend to cluster at the middle to higher end of the spectrum, ranging from US$9.60 per kcf to and US$11.06 per kcf.

The costs of Mexico’s projects that are aimed at delivering LNG to Europe tend to cluster in the middle of the spectrum (US$9.11 per kcf to US$10.61 per kcf).

Source: Derived from Rystad Energy, Gas and LNG Markets Solution.


LNG markets are complex. Each project is unique and presents its own challenges. The future of Canadian LNG projects depends upon the overall demand and supply in the global LNG market. As the demand for LNG increases in the next decades, the world will be searching for energy security.

The lower liquefaction and shipping costs coupled with the lower cost of the natural gas itself in Western Canada translate into lower prices for Canadian LNG, particularly that destined for Asian markets. Those advantages will help make Canadian LNG very competitive and attractive to markets worldwide.


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