August 17, 2018

Why Russian oil — and not Canadian — will keep fuelling the U.S. Pacific Northwest

Why Russian oil — and not Canadian — will keep fuelling the U.S. Pacific Northwest

Oil tankers coming in and out of the Strait of Juan de Fuca — the waterway between Vancouver Island and Washington state — are nothing special. In this crucial passage shared with the United States, if tankers are noticed at all they are just part of a passing parade shipping every conceivable commodity and manufactured thing.

The recent arrival of the Portuguese-flagged Nordtulip at the Washington State refinery port of Anacortes on July 31 wasn’t particularly noteworthy. Instead, it was Nordtulip’s previous stop that made the ship stand out, in a new twist that speaks volumes about Canada’s aspiration to get fair market value for its oilsands crude.

The 229-metre vessel — no supertanker — was carrying 600,000 to 650,000 barrels of crude oil for conversion at one of Anacortes’ two oil refineries where gasoline, diesel and jet fuel are produced for use by residents and businesses of Washington State and Oregon.

The Pacific Northwest derives its refinery feedstock from various sources every day, mainly Alaska by ship (a diminishing source) but also Alberta via the existing Trans Mountain pipeline. That’s the pipeline Ottawa will purchase for $5.4-billion to (hopefully) ensure the proposed multi-billion-dollar expansion project is built over the objection of anti-development protestors and the British Columbia government.

Here’s where things get interesting. Nordtulip wasn’t coming from Alaska. Instead, its cargo originated in Vladivostok, Russia, and the ship carried its cargo for 40 days across the Pacific Ocean to Anacortes.

It may seem surprising that Russia — a nation that continues to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and disrupts elections with Fake News — is supplying crude oil to the Pacific Northwest. Yet those who follow tanker movements closely are aware that it’s by no means the first time we’ve seen Russia fuelling the U.S. West Coast.

In July 2012, Bloomberg News reported on the phenomenon, stating: “Vladimir Putin, a frequent opponent of American foreign policy, is sending more crude than ever to the West Coast, a region all but cut off from the biggest U.S. oil-production boom since the end of the Cold War.”