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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 <>.


Canada’s advantage as the world’s demand for plastic continues to grow

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From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Will Gibson

‘The demand for plastics reflects how essential they are in our lives’

From the clothes on your back to the containers for household products to the pipes and insulation in your home, plastics are interwoven into the fabric of day-to-day life for most Canadians.

And that reliance is projected to grow both in Canada and around the world in the next three decades

The Global Plastics Outlook, published by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), forecasts the use of plastics globally will nearly triple by 2060, driven by economic and population growth.  

The use of plastics is projected to double in OECD countries like Canada, the United States and European nations, but the largest increases will take place in Asia and Africa. 

“The demand for plastics reflects how essential they are in our lives, whether it is packaging, textiles, building materials or medical equipment,” says Christa Seaman, vice-president, plastics with the Chemical Industry Association of Canada (CIAC), which represents Canada’s plastics producers.  

She says as countries look to meet climate and sustainability goals, demand for plastic will grow. 

“Plastics in the market today demonstrate their value to our society. Plastics are used to make critical components for solar panels and wind turbines. But they also can play a role in reducing weight in transportation or in ensuring goods that are transported have less weight in their packaging or in their products.” 

Canada produces about $35 billion worth of plastic resin and plastic products per year, or over five per cent of Canadian manufacturing sales, according to a 2019 report published by the federal government.  

Seaman says Canadian plastic producers have competitive advantages that position them to grow as demand rises at home and abroad. In Alberta, a key opportunity is the abundant supply of natural gas used to make plastic resin.  

“As industry and consumer expectations shift for production to reduce emissions, Canada, and particularly Alberta, are extremely well placed to meet increased demand thanks to its supply of low-carbon feedstock. Going forward, production with less emissions is going to be important for companies,” Seaman says.  

“You can see that with Dow Chemical’s decision to spend $8.8 billion on a net zero facility in Alberta.” 

While modern life would not be possible without plastics, the CIAC says there needs to be better post-use management of plastic products including advanced recycling, or a so-called “circular economy” where plastics are seen as a resource or feedstock for new products, not a waste. 

Some companies have already started making significant investments to generate recyclable plastics.  

For example, Inter Pipeline Ltd.’s $4.3 billion Heartland Petrochemical Complex near Edmonton started operating in 2023. It produces a recyclable plastic called polypropylene from propane, with 65 per cent lower emissions than the global average thanks to the facility’s integrated design. 

Achieving a circular economy – where 90 per cent of post-consumer plastic waste is diverted or recycled – would benefit Canada’s economy, according to the CIAC.  

Deloitte study, commissioned by Environment & Climate Change Canada, estimated diverting or reusing 90 per cent of post-consumer plastic waste by 2030 will save $500 million annually while creating 42,000 direct and indirect jobs. It would also cut Canada’s annual CO2 emissions by 1.8 megatonnes.  

Right now, about 85 per cent of plastics end up in Canada’s landfills. To reach the 90 per cent diversion rate, Seaman says Canada must improve its infrastructure to collect and process the plastic waste currently being landfilled. 

But she also says the industry rather than municipalities need to take responsibility for recycling plastic waste.  

“This concept is referred to as extended producer responsibility. Municipalities have the responsibility for managing recycling within a waste management system. Given the competing costs and priorities, they don’t have the incentive to invest into recycling infrastructure when landfill space was the most cost-effective solution for them,” she says.  

“Putting that responsibility on the producers who put the products on the market makes the most sense…The industry is adapting, and we hope government policy will recognize this opportunity for Canada to meet our climate goals while growing our economy.” 

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Decarbonization deal opens new chapter in Alberta-Japan relationship

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From the Canadian Energy Centre

By Will Gibson

Agreement represents a homecoming for JAPEX, which first started work in the Alberta oil sands in 1978

new agreement that will see Japan Petroleum Exploration Company (JAPEX) invest in decarbonization opportunities in Alberta made history while also being rooted in the past, in the eyes of Gary Mar. 

JAPEX is seeking to develop projects in carbon capture and storage (CCS), hydrogen and bioenergy. It’s part of the company’s JAPEX2050 strategy toward carbon neutrality. 

“This new endeavour is a great opportunity that demonstrates the world is changing but the relationships endure,” says Mar, the province’s former trade envoy to Asia and the current CEO of the Canada West Foundation 

“Alberta’s very first international office was opened in Tokyo in 1981. And we have built a tremendous soft infrastructure that includes partnerships between a dozen Alberta and Japanese universities.” 

For JAPEX, the agreement represents something of a homecoming for the company that first started work in the Alberta oil sands in 1978 and operated one of the first in situ (or drilled) oil projects for nearly two decades before selling its stake in 2018. 

We are now aiming to come back to Alberta and contribute to its decarbonization,” JAPEX president of overseas business Tomomi Yamada said in a statement.  

Mar says the memorandum of understanding signed this March between JAPEX and the crown corporation Invest Alberta stems from a strong relationship built over decades.  

“You cant be considered a reliable partner for a new venture if you havent been a reliable partner for decades in the past,” says Mar.  

Economies change and worlds needs change but strong relationships are important factor in whom you do business with.” 

Alberta’s established CCS infrastructure has already attracted new investment, including Air Products’ $1.6-billion net zero hydrogen complex and Dow Chemicals’ $8.8-billion net zero petrochemical complex 

Mar sees JAPEX’s deal with Invest Alberta opening a whole new market of potential carbon neutral investors in the Pacific Rim. 

“When other countries who are partners in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) see JAPEX invest in this decarbonization opportunities and net zero projects in Alberta, it will send a very clear signal to others in the TPP about the potential,” Mar says.  

“This deal may come from the decades-long relationship between Alberta and Japan but can also serve as a signpost for decades to come.” 

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