Where the U.S. gets its oil from

Despite the fact that late-year gasoline prices have risen to the second-highest in recent memory, a new report from the UT Energy Poll shows that most Americans have little clue where their gasoline even comes from. According to the poll, 3 out of 4 Americans think that the U.S. imports the majority of its oil from somewhere in the Middle East.


Yet when all of the U.S.’s oil imports are stacked up, oil from the Middle East comprises only a quarter of U.S. oil imports. In fact, the majority of the U.S.’s imported oil comes from countries in North and South America.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

If we look up the top 10 exporters of oil to the U.S., we might be surprised to find that our friendly neighbors to the north are the ones working the hardest to keep our gasoline tanks full. (Or at least, 87% of us will be surprised by this!)

You’re reading the chart right: the U.S. imported 1.14 billion barrels of oil from Canada in 2013 alone. That’s roughly 21.7 billion gallons of gasoline!


If you’re a little more in-the-know than most people on this topic, you’ll notice that the imports listed above don’t even come close to matching the U.S.’s insatiable appetite for oil. And that’s where the most important fact in this article comes in: 60% of the oil that Americans use is produced right here in the U.S.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

In fact, only between 1997-2010 did we see oil imports rise above our own oil production. This trend began to reverse in 2005 and we’re now on a stable path toward (mostly) oil independence.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

It’s time we put an end to this myth that the U.S. gets most of its oil from the Middle East.

If you’re one of today’s lucky 10,000, I’m calling on you to share these facts with your family and friends today so they will be better informed when voting on energy policies in the future.


  • 3/4 of Americans don’t know where the U.S. gets its oil from
  • The U.S. only imports 40% of the oil it uses; the other 60% is produced in the U.S.
  • Half of the oil the U.S. imports is from North and South America; only 28% of imported oil comes from the Middle East

Dr. Randy Olson is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania. As a member of Prof. Jason H. Moore's research lab, he studies biologically-inspired A.I. and its applications to biomedical problems.

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  • http://mishashapo.blogspot.com Misha S

    Thanks for the informative blog, Mr.Olson. I always look forward to your awesomely made charts! =)

  • frank
    • Frank is Right

      And that’s all I have to say about that.

  • Will

    I want to point the crossover of domestic and imported oil in that final chart in the last 4 years. I heard that fraking was a big deal, but seeing the data laid out made my whole day. Thank you for that.

  • Jacob

    The main piece of information that is missing from this article is the Export story. Looking at the data over just the past few years, the US has hugely stepped up the amount of petroleum products that they export – to the tune of about half as many barrels as they import. This further closes the “independence” gap, as a large portion of the imported oil is simply refined in the US and then exported. Check out this data set:


    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      That’s disturbing! Especially considering the recent news that oil export regulations were loosened earlier this year.

      • Jacob

        Why is that disturbing? It just points to an expanding US industry (refining) that may even be helping to keep gas prices down in the US.

        • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

          It’s unclear to me how it makes sense (for the nation) to export oil when we’re still consuming more oil than we produce. Although gas prices have been slowly dropping in the past couple years thanks to increased domestic production, I do wonder how much more we could be saving the average American if we kept all of the U.S.’s oil in the U.S.

          • Jacob

            But trade deals can be leveraged when return products (refined products) are in the mix. Your graph above shows 40% imports, but that figure is misleading, as half of that imported oil is refined and then exported.

          • Will

            There are different grades of crude oil, and also differences in location. In particular Alaskan oil is far away from consumers in the 48 states, and closer (that the rest of the country) to the east Asian markets.

  • Edwin

    I would recommend changing “gas” in your second paragraph to gasoline. In the current context gas could be misinterpreted as gas-phase hydrocarbon. I enjoy reading your articles and look forward to the next.

    • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

      Done. Thanks for the feedback, and for reading my article! :-)

  • phil

    Interesting that we don’t import more oil from Mexico. I was expecting that number to be higher than 3%.

  • SmartCookie

    While the data is correct, the spin on it is misleading.

    Think of it this way…
    Roughly fifteen percent of the energy needed to meet last year’s demand was supplied by countries often described as the third world, which is just a small step up from the Iron Age.

    The problem is not that they produce %most% of our oil, but that they produce enough of it to where not sharing it would wreck our economy…

    The economy is much like the circulatory system, where oil is like the water that flows through it, being that our dollar and the price of oil are strongly tied… Well, you don’t have to wring a person for most of his blood…or water… JUST 10% LOSS CAN KILL…

    The Middle East doesn’t supply MOST of our need, but there aren’t enough sellers out there that we don’t have to buy from them…

    Also, this talks about current supply rates, not considering how much volume is in the ground.

    At the moment, petroleum is the most versatile, portable fuel with a global distribution network… And anyone who controls 100% of the remainder you can’t buy elsewhere, has you by the curly hairs of the 10% who don’t get any unless you pay their price.

    This article does shed light on some facts, but this should be a warning to all of us that dependency on any foreign energy supplier opens us to risk, and in unstable countries that risk may follow us home or hurt our friends abroad. Greed for that extra 40% we don’t produce has gotten us embroiled in more conflicts in third world countries than I can count with my shoes on.

    Also don’t forget to tell them about Hubbart’s Peak… While we still produce most of our demand for oil (and Caucasians), imports will dominate, and eventually the Middle East will win the oil game, especially given that 58% of the worldwide oil supply is sitting under the Middle East… That is unless we steal it with our army…

  • kderillo

    And guess where Canada gets half of its oil from?

    Saudi Arabia.

    End the dependence now.

    • http://www.stevencaplan.com steven

      I know very little about this topic…so this statement is interesting. If we (USA) import oil and then export it as well, then is Canada doing the same thing with Oil from Saudi Arabia? If this is true, then the graphs that were produce above are extremely misleading in my opinion.

      Even if we get 60% of our oil from the western hemisphere, if these countries are exporting oil that they originally imported from the Middle East, then doesn’t this skew the data?

      Thanks for any facts and sources.

      • http://www.randalolson.com Randy Olson

        Canada does not get much (if any) oil from Saudi Arabia. Canada has huge oil reserves, the 3rd largest in the world only behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

      • Aaron Duff

        The US imports 16 times more crude oil than it exports.The confusion stems from the disproportionate information (If you were going to run a business into the ground, this is how you’d do it) The US is the largest consumer of oil, and therefore produces as much as it can, making it a huge producer of oil. It however can’t keep up with its needs so it brings in %40 from other countries. While all of this is happening, the US is 11th in reserves, having only %2.5 of crude oil reserves.

        So, do you open a brick laying company in a world of brick laying companies, where you use more bricks than anyone else but have less than %3 of them? Only if you’re gonna go steal someone else’s bricks eventually…

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  • Rallias

    Wouldn’t being one of the lucky 10k imply that everyone learns it at some point or another?

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  • Ima Knowitall

    Warren Buffet owns BNSF railroad which imports the oil/gas to us from Canada and charges a FORTUNE for it.
    How big a fortune? He stands to lose 2 billion a year if the Keystone Pipeline is completed to bring oil/gas here for about 1/3 the cost.
    That is who has really been fighting it. He is also President Obama’s gigantic contributor which might explain the govt’s reluctance and how the EPA got drawn into the fight.
    Any time govt wants something stopped they say it’s bad for the environment. But govt doesn’t care about the environment or they’d order all smokestacks to reroute their output thru a chemical neutralizer. Problem solved. But again, they don’t care.
    Anyway, Mr Buffett is RIPPING YOU OFF to the tune of 2 bill a year.
    Never let that stinking thief forget it.
    Never let the President forget that you know he shares his guilt.
    Keep the pressure on. Build the pipeline.
    The EPA lies say it hurts the countryside and the animals, but the other pipelines are warm and actually attract animals which seeing others, mate with them.
    This has actually caused and animal explosion in parts of the cold north and the hunters are very grateful.
    But will you ever hear of this?
    Doubtful unless you read it from me.

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The data visualizations on this blog are the result of my “data tinkering” hobby, where I tackle a new data analysis problem every week. If I find something interesting, I report my findings here to share with the world.

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