If you drive a car that runs on gas or diesel, you’ve probably thought about where the crude oil that made your fuel came from, especially when you’re standing at the fueling station watching the numbers whirl by and cringing at the thought of your next credit card bill. According to the news and speeches made by politicians, the Middle East is the major source of US oil imports, right? That’s why energy independence is so important, and why the Middle East is such a critical asset, because instability in the region could threaten oil prices and cause shortages.
However, our primary source of oil imports is actually found closer to home. A lot closer, it turns out; Canada and Mexico both have very large oil reserves and they sell frequently to the US. Other sources include Africa and South America. Major sources in October 2012 included Canada, Mexico, Russia, and Venezuela, along with, yes, Saudi Arabia. In fact, the Persian Gulf represented just one fifth of oil imports overall, which, while significant, isn’t quite the overwhelming juggernaut it’s often made out to be. What’s more, the source of your oil actually varies by location within the United States.
If you live in the Midwest or Mountain West, your vehicles run on Canadian oil; this makes sense, given how easy it is to move oil and other petroleum products across the border. The South relies heavily on Mexican oil, while the East Coast uses sources from Africa; drivers in the West, on the other hand, use a lot of Saudi Arabian and Iraqi oil, fitting a more traditional profile in terms of the regions it counts on to deliver enough crude to keep its vehicles running. Certainly changes your perspective on the source of oil used in the US, doesn’t it?
What it shouldn’t change, though, is your perspective on fossil fuels, which still contribute to pollution, global warming and other problems. While it may be possible for North America to achieve energy independence, relying solely on its own oil deposits and reserves for fuel, that shouldn’t be a long-term goal to the exclusion of alternatives to fossil fuel.
All that Canadian oil, for example?
95 percent of it is locked up in infamous tar sands, which require extensive processing to access the valuable petroleum inside. Many of these deposits are also located in remote, harsh regions, which make them hard to access in a way that would be commercially viable, and even industry groups admit that there might be some “environmental problems” associated with extracting, processing and transporting Canadian oil.
It’s important to get an accurate look at where petroleum products used in the US are coming from, in order to form a more complete source of understanding, but that shouldn’t distract us from the bigger picture. While the popular myth that the US is reliant on Middle Eastern oil isn’t quite true, it is true that the nation has a serious problem with fossil fuels, and that this needs to change. Shifts in US energy policy are critical to encourage the nation to turn away from oil, and towards something more sustainable in the long term, and finding a cure to the oil addiction may be a complex process.
Photo credit: Richard Masoner