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GHG intensity, oil refining and oilsands import growth

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

According to a new report from IHS, the growth in US imports of Canadian oilsands in recent years has not impacted the overall GHG intensity of the US supply mix. The growth of oilsands imports, the report says, has been offset by substitution for similar sources of supply and by increases in lower carbon tight oil displacing relatively higher carbon imports from Africa and elsewhere.

Study findings

The new study calculated the GHG intensity of the average oilsands refined in the US by estimating the mix of oilsands products pipelined to and refined in the US during 2012. This calculation is intended to provide a more up to date comparison of the products’ GHG intensity compared to other types of crude processed in the US.

Imports of oilsands, syncrude and other heavy crude from Canada to the US grew 75% between 2005 and 2012 to hit over 2 million bpd. The increase was offset by other changes to the US supply mix during the time, according to the study.

US tight oil production, which did not exist in 2005, has grown significantly. Tight oil production hit 1.8 million bpd in 2012, the equivalent of 30% of domestic US supply. The growth has displaced similar light sweet crudes from Africa and elsewhere that were on average relatively higher carbon intensive.

At the same time, the rise in oilsands imports was offset by declines in imports of other heavier sources of supply that have a GHG intensity within the same range as the oilsands, according to the study. 2012 imports of heavy crude from Venezuela and other Latin American countries declined 400 000 bpd compared to 2005 levels. Imports from Mexico declined by approximately 600 000 bpd during that period also.

The study also found that taking in to account the recent changes to the US oil supply mix, refined products from the Canadian oilsands have well to wheels life cycle GHG emissions that range from 1 – 19% higher than the average crude oil consumed in the US in 2012. This places oilsands within the same GHG intensity range as 45% of the crude oil supplied to US refineries in 2012.


Kevin Birn, director, IHS Energy said, ‘the US oil supply mix has changed significantly since 2005, the year most commonly cited for comparisons. The dramatic increase in US tight oil supply has displaced comparatively higher carbon light crude oil from offshore, while a reduction in imports of other heavy crudes of a similar carbon intensity to oilsands has kept the overall GHG intensity of the US oil supply mix unchanged. Oilsands are often singled out for having higher GHG emissions than other sources of US crude. But the more recent data shows that crude oil from the Canadian oilsands is within a GHG intensity range of nearly half the crude oil supplied to US refineries.’

The complete study can be found on the IHS Oilsands Dialogue page.

Adapted from press release by Claira Lloyd

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