Restricting U.S. imports of Canadian oil ignores America’s dependence on imported oil and will force it to buy oil from repressive governments

Attempts to restrict U.S. imports of Canadian oil ignore the reality of U.S. dependence on foreign oil and could force America to buy oil from repressive governments that restrict civil, political, and economic freedoms, concludes a new study released today by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank.

The new study measures how 38 major oil-producing jurisdictions, defined as those that produce more than 250,000 barrels of oil daily, perform on 17 comparisons of civil, political, and economic freedoms. The comparison also includes eight measurements specific to women’s freedoms.

“In recent years, Canada’s oil exports have been assailed by groups trying to persuade American consumers and policy-makers that a reduction in Canadian oil imports would not have negative consequences for the United States,” said Mark Milke, Fraser Institute director of Alberta policy and author of In America’s National Interest—Canadian Oil.

“On the contrary, in the absence of Canadian oil, Americans would likely face increased costs for oil and possible supply limitations. Americans should also not overlook the critical issue of civil, political, and economic freedoms. Unlike Canada, most other sources of oil imports are from governments that any reasonable person would find objectionable.”

The study found that, with the exception of Norway, Canada is the only major oil-exporting country that scores highly on all measurements of civil, political, and economic freedom. That includes: the rights of women to full career, medical, and travel choices; the property rights of all citizens; media freedom; religious freedom; economic freedoms such as property rights; and other measurements such as judicial independence and relative freedom from corruption.

“Restricting trade with an ally that has similar values in terms of equality, civil rights, and individual freedoms is simply not in America’s best interest,” Milke said.

Some facts from the study:

  • Citing a recent forecast by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the report notes that oil will remain “the dominant fuel in the primary energy mix to 2035,” with global demand for crude oil reaching 99 million barrels daily by that time. Critically, the IEA also forecasts that unconventional oil, like the type extracted from Canada’s oil sands, will play an increasingly important role in world oil supply through to at least 2035, regardless of what governments do to curb demand.
  • Canada now provides more oil to America than all the Persian Gulf countries combined, even though America imports 5.5 million more barrels of oil daily than it did in 1973.
  • In 2009, the U.S. relied on Persian Gulf countries for 14.4 per cent of its oil imports, down from 24.5 per cent of all U.S. oil imports in 1979. In contrast, Canada supplied the United States with 21.2 per cent of its oil imports in 2009, an increase from the 6.4 per cent Canada supplied in 1979.
  • Among the world’s top oil producers, Canada comes in sixth at 3.3 million barrels per day, behind Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Iran, and China (with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran significant world oil exporters). But Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, and many other oil-producing countries score poorly on measurements of civil, political, and economic rights, as well as on proxy measures indicating quality of life, such as literacy rates, post-secondary education, and misogynist practices.

“Oil will remain a chief component of the global energy mix for the next several decades, so the United States has two options: either continue to embrace oil imports from Canada—a safe, secure and stable ally with an excellent record on human rights—or resort to importing oil from governments that regularly violate human rights as a matter of policy, and in some cases, are state sponsors of terrorism,” Milke said.

“Critics of imported Canadian oil must confront the fact that, in the absence of such imports, America will need to seek other suppliers of oil, and those supplies will likely come from jurisdictions that many American consumers and policy-makers find objectionable for common-sense reasons.”