Label My Crude: Iowa Congressman Wants Americans to Know Where Their Fuel Was Born

Last Updated Jan 26, 2010 7:38 PM EST

Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley planned to introduce legislation Tuesday that would require a country of origin label on all fuels in an effort to give American consumers a choice once they're at the gas pump to decide if they want to buy fuel imported from other countries. Or as Braley put it in a statement released Monday: "to decide at the gas pump whether they want to purchase domestic fuel products, such as biofuels produced in Iowa, or gasoline produced in hostile nations that many terrorists call home."
"When we fill up our vehicles, there's no existing method for us to know where the fuel we're purchasing comes from and which nations are deriving the economic benefit from that purchase," Braley said in a statement announcing his plans. "When we put food in our bodies or clothes on our backs, we know exactly where those products come from. Americans should have the same opportunity to vote with their wallets at the gas pump."
Braley's push comes on the heels of the Label My Fuel initiative launched last summer by Growth Energy, a pro-ethanol industry group. The Label My Fuel initiative is pushing for a national standard of country of origin labeling for fuel. Growth Energy argued the "COOL" standard already exists for other consumer items like coffee and beer. So why not require oil to do the same?

Well, for one, it may be a bit more complex than determining where your coffee beans are grown. As I wrote in a post about Growth Energy's initiative last fall, crude produced from a field is typically combined with oil from other fields to form a stream of crude within a pipeline. Streams from different pipeline may be blended to improve the quality of the oil. By the time the product is refined and makes its way to the pump, the fuel may list several sources. So, a lot of oil from lots of different places end up together. And it changes all the time.

In short, the country of origin label at your local gas station may read something like: Made in Canada, Norway, Brazil, Nigeria, Mexico and Saudi Arabia.

Braley's bill would require the Department of Energy to conduct a study and its implement its recommendations. So, the complexity of such a national standard and the cost of rolling it out would presumably be revealed then.

So where do we get our fuel? Coincidentally, R-Squared blogger Robert Rapier just posted a nifty Top 10 oil exporters to the U.S. list. His updated list took data from the 12-month period from November 2008 through October 2009.

Any guesses who was at the top of the list? The United States imported 9.3 million barrels per day during the 12-month period. Canada was our No. 1 source for crude with 1.94 million bpd; Mexico was in the No. 2 spot at 1.13 million bpd, and Saudi Arabia was third with 1.09 million bpd. After that came Venezuela, Nigeria, Angola, Iraq, Brazil, Algeria and Colombia. Russia barely made the list, coming in a No. 11. But that could change in the coming years. Imports from the Russia were up 98 percent over 2007, according to Rapier.