Which Countries are the United States’ Leading Crude Oil Providers?

The United States consumed 19.18 million barrels of petroleum products per day in 2010.  Net import (import minus export) had fallen to 49.2% of total consumption this year, below 50% for the first time in the new century, reported by Energy Information Administration. Curious people may wonder how dependent the U.S. is on foreign oil, what the historical footprints of oil imports are, and which regions or countries U.S. imported oil comes from.

We obtained historical import, export, and consumption data of crude oil and petroleum products ranging from 1973 to 2010 to analyze and answer these questions.

Historical Foreign-oil Dependence

U.S. oil consumption and net imports picked up after the 1973 oil crisis, peaked around 1978, then experienced a second downturn in the decade due to Iranian Revolution in 1979 and Iraqi invasion of Iran in 1980, and touched bottom in 1983. After that, they have steadily increased for more than 20 years until the 2007 economic crisis. Consumption and net imports turned up and down almost synchronically during this period. On the contrary, U.S. domestic production of crude oil remained at the same level during 70s and early 80s and then experienced a steady decline after late 80s. Export in the form of final petroleum products, however, has been constantly rising, which is a surprise to a lot of people.



If we use net import percentage out of total consumption as an indicator of dependence on foreign oil, the following graph shows that percentages of 12 years from 1998 to 2009 stayed higher than 50%, topped in 2005 at 60.31%. Thus, the imports to 49.2% in 2010 marked the end of a high foreign-oil-dependence period. The lowest foreign-oil-dependence years appeared around 1983, coincident with the lowest consumption during this 38-year period. The higher dependence after 1983 was a combinational result of increasing consumption and decreasing domestic production.




Oil imports from American countries are more important than from Persian Gulf

In terms of geographical distribution of foreign oil origins, a simple counting process and global mapping could reveal the truth and disapprove people’s common misperception. During the 38-year period, only four countries once held the first place of U.S. foreign oil origins: Canada (17 years), Saudi Arabia (13 years), Venezuela (4 years), and Mexico (4 years). A close look at each year would find that Canada has been holding the position for 12 years in a row after 1999. The four countries and another African country Nigeria, which had a high number of times (34) in the top five imported-oil origins, comprised the biggest sources of crude oil and petroleum product imports. Top five countries in each year usually make up 50% to 75% of all crude oil and petroleum product imports.



The following five maps take five years in the period to show domestic production and the geographical distribution of U.S. oil imports. In 1973, U.S. domestic production was about three million more barrels per day than total imports. The top five origin countries of imported oil and petroleum product were Canada in North America, Venezuela in South America, Netherlands Antilles in Caribbean, Saudi Arabia in Persian Gulf, and Nigeria in Africa. North and South America and Caribbean counted the largest portion of imported oil.


In 1980, consumption and domestic production of oil dropped slightly comparing to those of 1973. Total imports, however, increased by about 600 thousand barrels per day. The top five countries were Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Libya, Mexico, and Algeria. Three of them (Nigeria, Libya, and Algeria) are African countries.


In 1990, oil consumption had not come up back to the level of 1980 after touching the bottom at 1983. Nevertheless, oil and petroleum products imported had risen by one million barrels per day. The top five countries were Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Canada, Nigeria, and Mexico. Three of them are American countries.


In 2000, we can clearly see that imported oil had gained a significant jump comparing to the diminishing domestic production. Total imported oil almost doubled the domestic production. The top five countries were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Nigeria. Once again, American countries took three spots in the top five.


In 2010, consumption had dropped back to 19.18 million barrels per day after the peak point at 20.8 million barrels per day in 2005, even lower than consumption of 2000. Imports also stepped down after the peak in 2005. The top five countries remained the same as those of 2000 with only the order changed. As a matter of fact, these five countries have been constantly in top five after 2000. Therefore, American countries have been the most important imported oil origins in the past decade.


With special interest in Persian Gulf, we checked the historical trend of imported crude oil and petroleum product from this region. The chart below indicates that it never exceeded 30% of net oil imports in the 38-year period. It has been up and down around 20% in the past twenty years. The single most important country in this region is Saudi Arabia.


To conclude, North America, Central America, Africa, and the Persian Gulf regions are the most important for U.S. oil and petroleum product imports. In terms of countries, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia are the key import partners.



1. U.S. Energy Information Administration, www.eia.gov.