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.

us-oil-imports-poll

Yet when all of the U.S.’s oil imports are stacked up, oil from the Middle East comprises less than 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.

us-oil-imports-pct-breakdown-2015

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 701 million barrels of oil from Canada in only 6 months. That’s roughly 13.3 billion gallons of gasoline!

us-oil-imports-top10-2015

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.

Summary

  • 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; less than 1/4 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 AI 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.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_move_wkly_dc_NUS-Z00_mbblpd_w.htm

    • 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.

          • Nick Lanctot

            We import crude and export refined oil and products made from refined oil. We don’t turn around and export the crude we just imported.

          • Chad Capeland

            And how would we do that? Banning exports? We have the largest trade deficit in the whole world. We should be trying to export MORE, not less. The only reason we export vs using it domestically is because of profit. If we have more money coming in from foreign sources, what’s the problem?

  • 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%.

    • Carlos Ortega

      That figure is what americans think, the next graph is how much they actually import from mexico.

  • 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…

        • DaveHolden

          Steal?

        • ExLonghorn

          This is partially due to a political ban on U.S. oil exports dating back to the 70’s. End the ban and let economics work it out.

    • SykoPAT

      I ride my bike everyday and laugh at the cars filling up, honking at each other, saying on the news every time there’s a price hike ” well we have no choice, blah blah blah” Suckers…and i pedal away a free man.

      • Chris Hollman

        That’s stupid. It takes me 10 minutes to drive to work at 70mph, it would take me over an hour to bike here and another hour back, taking a longer route because bikes aren’t allowed on the highway. Time has value, my time is worth over $35/hr according to my employer, driving my car saves me about $70 worth of my time each day, nowhere near what it costs in ownership, fuel, and maintenance.

        I’m glad your time is worth so little or that the distance you have to travel is so short, but that’s not true for most people.

        • dcnorman

          You could cut out your gym time if you spent 2 hours cycling a day. And if you’re not going to the gym, then you will be adding years to your life by riding your bike. One year added to your life at $35/hr is worth over $300K. That being said, I drive 10 minutes to work at 35mph and could probably cycle the same distance in 20-25 minutes and I don’t do it because that would mean one less tap of the snooze button every morning. And since my hourly wage is only $12/hr, adding a year to my life is only worth a paltry $100K.

        • John McCourt

          No it’s not stupid. The stupid thing is that you couldn’t get a job near your home. Instead you drive around polluting the air with a bunch of toxins destroying the very earth that we live in. That is stupid.

          • Chris Hollman

            LMAO are you fucking kidding me? I don’t work at Burger King or in some capacity where the jobs are strewn across the landscape every few miles you idiot I work as a software engineer and my commute is shorter than like 98% of all other professionals, it’s literally a 10 minute drive.

      • A-MTN-DUDE

        I have Arthritis and Lupus, because of the Arthritis I could not ride to work and due to the Lupus could not stand the sun exposure. Pretty funny huh?

        • John McCourt

          Special case. The majority of people are not in your situation.

    • Adam Hawley

      actually only the eastern maritime provinces import oil from other countries like saudi arabia, mexico and venezulea.. ontario and the western provinces are self sufficient

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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.

    • Ezra

      Chemical neutralizer, Engage.

    • kjay_2046

      Various reliable news stories report similarly, this is from The Hill.

      Billionaire investor and President Obama fundraiser Warren Buffett disagreed Monday with the president’s delay in reviewing the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it amounts to the United States thumbing its nose at Canada.

      “I would have passed Keystone,” Buffett told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” in advance of the 50th annual shareholder meeting for Berkshire Hathaway, which he founded. “I think that we have an enormous interest in working with Canada.”

      While not directly calling out Obama, Buffett made it clear that he disagreed with the way the federal government is currently handling TransCanada Corp.’s application for the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, which it filed more than six years ago.

      “That is a valuable resource of North America and Canada’s been a terrific partner over the decades,” he said.”And for us to kind of thumb our nose at them, you know, not what I would do.”

      Buffett supports the pipeline despite Berkshire Hathaway’s ownership of BNSF Railway, which also carries crude oil and therefore competes against pipelines.

      Buffett’s comments came less than a week after Obama vetoed a bill that would have forced approval of Keystone.

      Obama said that the bill would disrupt the current practice that gives the executive branch exclusive authority to review cross-border pipeline applications to determine whether they would be in the “national interest,” a process that the Obama administration is still conducting.

      Buffett has supported Keystone since at least 2012.

      • 2crudedudes

        This is a direct contradiction of what Ima Knowitall said.

        • IndianaDevil

          So much for being a knowitall

        • KTG

          I think his opening sentence meant “many news outlets report similar to THIS” not similar to the top comment. It was pretty unclear though, I agree.

    • SargentRock

      Newsflash–anytime anything happens the rich tend to get richer for it. Bush’s cronies used the Iraq war to make themselves richer (no bid contracts keep going to Halliburton? Well that’s odd). Rich people tend to be pretty good at staying rich, and one way they do is to give the government a lot of money to pass legislation to help them stay rich. Your fight here isn’t with Buffet, it’s with the rich.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        You know…. If 14 years later you’re still going to blame Bush….

        Maybe you should also have some sort of rationale as to why nothing in terms of the war, and foreign policy has gotten better under Obama.

        But nah, let’s pretend there is some steam left in the Blame Bush Train.

        • Derek Chin

          Yea, I mean, no one blames Hitler for anything anymore, right?

          (GODWIN’S LAW FTW)

        • Ron

          History doesn’t change, even after 14 years.

        • cratiun

          You sound incredibly stupid right now, its been 14 years so we cant blame Bush who brought us into war for his own selfish reasons? i guess we should stop blaming Hitler for killing Jews, its been a lot longer than 14 yrs so why should we.Sarge isn’t blaming bush for where we are on foreign policy, but is acknowledging what people will do for their own self interest… even start a war for their buddies to get richer!

        • SargentRock

          If that’s all you got from my comment then I can’t help you. Bush was an accurate example of my point, that’s all.

        • Draffut

          You mean that we are no longer in iraq?

          How is that ‘nothing in terms of the war’ has changed

      • RichieBelding2

        No bid contracts, especially to haliburton, were not odd at all. For instance, President Clinton made the same types of deals with the same company before Bush was even in office.

        • SargentRock

          Sorry–sometimes even obvious sarcasm is hard to tell on the internet I guess. Don’t get too hung up on the Bush example–it was just a name to prove my point, as your example does too.

      • tanstaafl6

        George Soros owns 2 million shares of Halliburton, then his own org’s, Move-on. org and Open Society Institute criticized Halliburton and republicans.

    • Keith Tyler

      Probably because it’s completely false.

    • 2crudedudes

      You can’t disregard the ecological impact simply because someone stands to profit from it.

      “I would go solar, but there’s a corporation that’s going to make a killing if I buy their panels. So fuck it, I’m going to keep burning fossil fuels.”

      Worst. Argument. Ever.

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  • Bryan

    It’s hot here in the south. Does anybody else besides me think it’s incredibly dumb to cool our houses by lighting stuff on fire in some remote power plant somewhere?

    The same giant ball of fire in the sky that is making my house stupidly hot can now be used to power the AC unit that cools it off….

    The other benefit is that solar is primarily a technology not a resource. (The major resource is silicon….which comes from sand….the second most abundant resource on our planet.)

    If we actually start taking a long term viewpoint the future is solar. A few hundred years from now (if we make it that far) our ancestors will look back and laugh at how primitive the fossil fuel era was. Might as well make the transition sooner rather than later it will save us a lot of money and lives…..

    • Chris Hollman

      Solar is nearing price parity with fossil fuels but it’s not there yet. The reality is coal, oil, and nuclear are still cheaper for most people. When that changes you’ll see solar fields popping up everywhere. Everything is driven by economics.

      • prok

        I don’t know if you’re against it or not, but I don’t see the problem with nuclear. It is one of the most efficient power sources of today and all negatives associated are pretty much fear mongering.

        Also, an issue with solar could be that manufacturing the stuff could be environmentally degrading, although I don’t know enough about the subject to actually confirm that.

    • Eddie

      The missing piece of the puzzle is battery technology. That currently requires rare earth elements and is far from green. Once they crack that nut, it’ll be solar all the way.

  • George Jones

    This is outdated. Far more than 60% is produced in the US now.

  • randomguy

    data is OLD!!! 2013, 2012… gtfo. us has built alot of oil rigs in the gulf last year

  • AfterCredits

    There you go, trying to put facts out on the Internet. That’s not what it’s for!

  • OnlyGodIsDeath

    Fuck first harper sells off our oil then our currency drops to basically worthless. I bet the US is laughing their ass off at all the free oil they got.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/avikbellic911 avikbellic911

    wat the hell happened to the solar and conserve energy and Environment speech?

  • Michael Metcalf

    Oil is a (mostly) fungible commodity so really it doesn’t matter where we import our oil from, we are massive net importers and Canada’s net exports is considerably less than the amount we “import” from them (about 40% less in 2013). Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has roughly 3 to 4 times as much net exports as Canada does, and the top 10 net exporting countries are, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria.

    In other words ultimately we are overwhelmingly ultimately buying our imported oil from these countries regardless of who we actually hand our money to, what port the oil actually ships from, or what field the oil actually came from. When we buy essentially all of Canada’s oil exports (and we do) we reduce the amount of oil that Canada can supply to Europe, Japan, and China, and guess who profits from that restriction? You guessed it Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria, etc.

    We consume twice as much oil as China (on an absolute basis never-mind a per capita basis), and while we are net exporters of refined petroleum products, the volume is nowhere near as much as the volume of crude oil we import.

    In other words, whenever we go and buy a petroleum product, or a product made with petroleum products, or shipped with petroleum products, we are supporting countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia, Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria (and yes Canada too but not nearly as much as your graphics would have us believe).

  • jamamiss

    I can’t believe that I am reading an article that actually makes sense about energy. How refreshing! Thank you.

  • 2crudedudes

    Well, given that any time some stupid shit happens in the Middle East gas prices go up, it only makes sense that people would believe they’re somehow related.

    Gas prices have been going up for the past decade despite the fact that nothing significant has happened in Canada in that time. So then, genius person, why do gas prices fluctuate so damn much?

  • Timwi

    The poll asks for the single country the US imports “the most oil”
    from. 13% gave the correct answer, 58% gave the second best answer and
    8% the third best answer. For something that doesn’t really affect
    everyday life, I think that sounds rather well-informed. Therefore I
    find your conclusion that “3/4 of Americans don’t know where the U.S.
    gets its oil from” to be so misleading as to border on lying. Shame on
    you for this disingenuous journalism.

  • Paul Albrecht

    this should be titled where america got it’s PEAK oil

About this blog

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

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