Canada’s oil exports increased by 65 per cent in 10 years under former Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s leadership according to analysis of the most recent figures issued by BP’s annual Statistical Review of World Energy.
Between 2004 and 2014, Canadian exports soared from 2,148,000 barrels per day to 3,535,000 barrels per day.
The BP data, compiled by Carbon Brief in its Global Oil Trade interactive, shows that the majority of this oil went south of the border — exports to the United States increased by 60 per cent during this time from 2,119,000 barrels per day to 3,388,000 barrels per day.
Exports to U.S. and the EU
In fact, almost 96 per cent of all Canadian crude exported in 2014 went to the U.S. The U.S. shale gas boom saw a rapid decline in the amount of oil the country imported, particularly from Mexico, Africa and South America. But this didn’t stop the flow of oil coming in from Canada.
The next biggest recipients of Canada’s oil over the last 10 years have been Europe, Japan, and South and Central America.
Europe is the second largest export market for Canada. Recently, the EU came close to labelling oilsand’s crude as high-carbon due to its energy-intensive extraction and refining process.
So it’s interesting to note that Canadian crude represents just a small fraction of the total oil imported by Europe (86,000 barrels per day in 2014 compared to 162,000 barrels per day from India, 1,575,000 barrels per day from West Africa, and 6,028,000 barrels per day from former Soviet Union countries).
Ultimately, the move to label the oilsands a highly carbon-intensive energy source was thwarted by serious lobbying efforts by the Canadian and Albertan governments under the former Conservative majority under Stephen Harper.
Since 2006, the Harper government pushed aggressively for the country to become an “energy superpower.”
In 2014, Canada was the world’s fifth largest oil exporter, behind China, the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia.
While Canada's oil exports increased many environmental protections were weakened or eliminated, under the Harper government, including protections for fish, rivers and lakes. Legislative changes made under omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 eliminated thousands of environmental assessments and repealed Canada's only law for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
During roughly the same 10-year period that Canada’s oil exports increased, not a single meeting was held between provincial, territorial and federal government ministers to specifically discuss climate change.
As Glen Murray, Ontario’s Liberal minister for environment and climate change recently told The Canadian Press: “The previous government in 10 years couldn’t produce a paragraph [on climate policy], never mind a framework, so there’s a lot of work going on [now].”
Canada has pledged as part of the Paris climate deal agreed in December to cut its annual greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution to 524 megatonnes by the end of the next decade.
But as the most recent emissions data released last month by Environment and Climate Change Canada shows, the country is way off course in meeting the weak greenhouse gas reduction targets set under the previous Conservative government.
Under Harper, Canada indicated it would reduce its greenhouse gas output only by roughly 14 per cent by 2030 based on 1990 levels.
The Trudeau government said it plans to improve on this target, but has yet to state by how much. Canada currently exceeds 1990 levels by 18 per cent. Canada has also agreed to phase out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century and eliminate net carbon emissions by 2050.
The federal government is set to meet with Indigenous leaders and premiers in Vancouver on March 2-3 in the hopes of laying out the framework for a national climate strategy. And as part of this, Canada’s oil production, and its ever-increasing global exports, will undoubtedly have to be factored into the decision making process.