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Canadian oil sands will probably become the No. 1 source of U.S. crude oil imports this year, and could make up more than a third of the nation’s oil and refined product imports by 2030, according to a new study.

The Role of Canadian Oil Sands in U.S. Oil Supply, a report from Cambridge, Mass.-based IHS CERA, says that in a fast-growth scenario, oil sands could represent 36% of oil imports by 2030, or 20% in a more moderate growth scenario, compared with 8% in 2009. Production of 1.35 million barrels per day (mbd) in 2009 could rise to between 3.1 mbd and 5.7 mbd by then.

Although production of oil sands has run into environmental opposition, innovation in the technology of oil sand production has been constant and there will be continued progress in cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and reducing its environmental impact, the report says.

While the total “well-to-wheels” greenhouse gas emissions from oil sands are some 5 to 15% higher than the average crude oil produced in the U.S., a comparison to the average can be misleading because some domestic crude oil production can actually have higher GHG emissions, the IHS CERA report says.

However, continued high growth in oil sands production will require further advances in managing water and land use and the reclamation of tailings—the waste material byproduct, the report says.

“The fact that oil sands by themselves—were they a country—are set to become the largest single source of U.S. crude oil imports this year, emphasizes the importance they have attained as a supply source for the United States,” said IHS CERA chairman Daniel Yergin, author of the groundbreaking history of oil, The Prize.

Oil sands also contribute to U.S. energy security, the report says, because Canadian oil is “less foreign” than imports from other countries. “By most measures Canada’s oil is less foreign than other potential sources of supply,” the report says. “Oil supply from Canada is stable, proximate, connected by pipelines, and part of a limited set of oil development opportunities in which private oil companies—including US firms—can openly and securely invest.”

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Source: Canada’s Oil Sands and U.S. Energy Imports