The nuance when discussing Canadian oil

The discussion about Canadian oil is nuanced and cannot be boiled down to just be about pipelines. This meme is making the rounds online and is woefully misleading. I took the advice to “think about this” and after a little googling, reading reputable sources, and thinking critically I’ve gotten a more complete picture.

Western Canada oil is heavy and cannot be refined in Atlantic refineries in large quantities. These provinces import light crude from other countries (US, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan are top three) to meet current demand. As an aside, Canada exports 7 barrels to every 1 it imports.

In order to process heavy crude, oil companies would need to invest $10B to $15B over 5-7 years to build a new refinery (but that’s to meet today’s demand which may be far different in 5-7 years). At that point, an oil company is going to weigh the anticipated return on investment.

If we focus purely on infrastructure (pipelines) to move the oil (which is uncertain on how long to build), it would only be to get it to foreign markets and doesn’t solve the refining problem for use in Atlantic Canada (unless done in parallel with refinery construction). So, Canada would still need to import foreign oil for at least another 5-7 years if a refinery is built, not a pipeline.

Source 1: https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/snpsht/2019/05-02cstmprtngcrdl-eng.html
Source 2: https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/snpsht/2019/03-03mprtscrdl-eng.html
Source 3: https://www.canadianfuels.ca/website/media/PDF/Publications/Economics-fundamentals-of-Refining-December-2013-Final-English.pdf

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