Canada likes to think it has enough good sense to avoid the belligerent trade protectionism that’s currently driving NAFTA talks over a cliff.
More often than not, that’s the case, with one curious exception — 86,000 barrels a day of imported Saudi oil.
It’s a relative drop in the bucket compared to the four-million-plus barrels produced here every day, and it’s only a bit more than a 10th of Canada’s daily imports of 759,000 barrels. More than half of those now come from the U.S.
Yet for years now, the claim that Saudi oil doesn’t belong in Canadian refineries — an argument with Trump-lite echoes akin to Make Canada Great Again — continues to take up an undue amount of oxygen in the national energy discussion, despite economic and geographic realities that suggest otherwise.
“Of all the things going on in Canadian energy policy right now, this is one of the less controversial ones,” said Robert Johnston, chief executive of political consultancy Eurasia Group.
At a glance, it’s sensible enough that western Canadian barrels would be a nice fit for the nation’s eastern refineries, but that possibility also ignores the existing network of pipelines that Canada’s oil industry spent decades assembling to ship oil south and not east.
Any signs of chafing at the symbiotic relationship between Canada and the world’s largest gasoline-consuming nation only showed up earlier this decade when booming oilsands production became penned in by a lack of pipeline capacity.
Among the many targets of the oil industry’s by now well-understood dismay over pipelines are what it sees as the inefficiency of the National Energy Board, the misplaced priorities of federal and provincial governments, the intransigence of at least one big city mayor, and a belief that environmental concerns are trampling the country’s economic interests.
After a decade of stasis, a frustrated oilpatch’s willingness to glom onto nearly any pro-pipeline argument is understandable, but it still doesn’t mean animosity toward Saudi barrels makes economic sense.
Consider Energy East, TransCanada’s now-cancelled project to ship oil from Alberta to New Brunswick. To get rid of 86,000 barrels of Saudi oil would mean sending Alberta crude 4,600 kilometres across the country, an expensive trip even by seaborne tanker standards.
“It’s not a given that it would be cheaper to bring it…