Canada almost doubled imports of crude oil from the United States in April compared with the same month a year earlier, Statistics Canada data showed on Wednesday, as the U.S. light oil boom continued to displace barrels from overseas.
Crude exports are restricted in the United States under decades-old legislation, but companies are allowed to apply for licenses to sell oil to Canada.
Canada imported around 8.1 million barrels in April, or around 270,000 barrels per day, from the United States, a 95 percent increase on the 4.2 million barrels imported in April 2013.
It was a 4 percent increase from March 2014, when Canada brought in around 7.8 million barrels of crude from its southern neighbour.
In total, Canada imported 17.5 million barrels, or roughly 583,000 barrels per day, from around the world in April, with the United States as top supplier followed by Iraq.
All 2.26 million barrels, or 75,000 bpd, of Iraqi crude went to the Atlantic province of Newfoundland Labrador, where the Korea National Oil Corporation subsidiary North Atlantic Refining runs the 115,000 bpd Come-by-Chance refinery.
April also saw the first imports from Azerbaijan in more than a year of just over 1 million barrels of crude. Those barrels all went to the province of Quebec, where Suncor Energy Inc and Valero Energy Corp have refineries.
Canada has the world's third-largest crude reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela and produces around 4.3 million bpd, but still imports crude because of limited pipeline access from the main oil-producing regions in Western Canada to some eastern refineries.
Refineries use rail, tankers, barges and pipelines to transport crude from booming U.S. shale plays such as the Eagle Ford in Texas and North Dakota Bakken.
"Refiners on the east coast are not really configured to process the dilbit (diluted bitumen) that comes out of Alberta. There's no reason for this trend (of rising imports) to stop," said oil economist Phil Verleger.
Even if opponents of the U.S. oil export ban were successful in getting it lifted, Verleger said Bakken shipments to Canada would be unaffected, as North Dakota crude has limited pipeline connection to U.S. ports.
Statistics Canada data showed Texas was the biggest exporter by state of U.S. crude to Canada for the fifth month in a row, although the number of barrels slipped to 4.4 million in April, down 20 percent from 5.5 million in March.
North Dakota picked up much of that slack as exports to Canada rose by 50 percent month-on-month to 3.1 million barrels.
Among the Canadian provinces Quebec imported the most U.S. crude in April with 4.3 million barrels. New Brunswick, home of the 300,000 bpd Irving Oil St John refinery, imported 2.3 million barrels of U.S. oil, mainly from Texas