In laying claim to the majority of Michigan's delegates in the Feb. 28 primary, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney also laid claim to the precious natural resources of America's northern neighbor. "I'll get us that oil from Canada that we deserve," he said.
That may not have been the most artful way to put it, but critics on both sides of the border should ignore that infelicitous phrasing, recognize the ties that bind the United States and Canada together, and work assiduously to maintain those vital energy links.
Many Americans may think that Saudi Arabia is the largest supplier of U.S. oil imports -- after all, isn't that why the United States keeps aircraft carriers in the Gulf and why the Saudi kings are either held by hand in Texas or offered deep bows? Some may even believe that Iraq has taken that place -- wasn't the war all about getting hands on Saddam's oil? But such beliefs are nothing but proof of Americans' general ignorance about Canada's importance for the U.S. energy supply, of which oil is just one component.
For decades, Canada has been the single-largest supplier of imported crude oil and refined oil products to the United States. In 2010, Canadian exports provided about 26 percent of all net U.S. liquid fuel imports (consisting of crude oil and refined products) -- or nearly 12 percent of America's total demand for liquid hydrocarbons, roughly every eighth barrel.
Canada's crude oil exports to the United States are greater than those of the entire Persian Gulf region, which only accounted for about 18 percent of America's crude imports in 2010. As for Iraq, it accounted for a paltry 4.5 percent of U.S. crude oil imports in 2010, and more oil was shipped from its southern port city of Basra to China than to the United States.
The United States doesn't rely on Canada only for oil. In 2010, Canada's natural gas exports accounted for nearly 90 percent of all U.S. gas imports, and they provided nearly 14 percent of America's total gas consumption. In cold Midwestern states, the percentage supplied by Canada is even larger.
Canada also exported nearly 10 percent of its total annual electricity generation, or some 44 terawatt-hours, to the United States. Although this accounted for only about 1 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption, Canada's hydroelectric plants provided the highly valuable peak power that covered spikes in demand during the winter and summer.