By Jeffrey Jones
CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Depending on how one runs the numbers, President Barack Obama is well on his way to chopping U.S. oil imports by a third.
The question is which imports his administration will cut, given that oil supply trends in the world's largest energy consumer have already shifted. They are unlikely to be Canadian.
In a speech on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Obama reminded Americans of the danger of dependence on foreign oil, and mentioned Canada among partners in the quest for U.S. energy security. With good reason. Canada is the largest supplier of oil to the United States and one of its closest allies.
If Canadian supplies were excluded from U.S. oil and petroleum imports, the numbers would show that U.S. dependence on foreign oil is already dwindling, even though there is no policy to make that happen.
Since 2008, net imports have fallen 15 percent from the more than 11 million barrels that year. It is a 20 percent decline when Canadian supplies are excluded.
The trend precedes Obama's election.
Since the high mark in 2005 of a total of 12.5 million barrels a day imported by the United States from its suppliers, net imports have fallen nearly 25 percent and, subtracting the Canadian supply, they have fallen by a third.
Obama said on Wednesday that he wants the United States to cut oil imports by a third over 10 years.
Over the past five years, Canadian oil and petroleum product shipments to the United States have surged 16 percent to 2.5 million barrels a day, according to the U.S. EIA, coinciding with massive investments in the vast but controversial oil sands.
Saudi Arabian imports have fallen 29 percent over the same period.
Even if Obama achieves his goal, Canadian shipments are bound to keep rising, said Jackie Forrest, an analyst at energy consultants IHS CERA.
"The market is big enough, even with this cut, to absorb all oil sands growth. It doesn't change that equation," Forrest said. "It just means that there will be less room for other exporters.
The U.S. initiative comes after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delayed a decision on TransCanada Corp's $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline, which would ship more than half a million barrels a day of Canadian crude as far south as the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Environmentalists, and some U.S. politicians, opposed to the route across many states and to increased oil sands development in Alberta, Canada, have called for its rejection. The company contends it would create U.S. jobs and boost energy security.
The Canadian oil industry, which is looking to expand its markets, took Obama's comments as positive.
"We've had a pretty significant series of signals from Secretary Clinton and now from the President, that when the U.S. looks to import oil it would prefer to be reliant on Canada rather than most other suppliers," said Tom Huffaker, vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
"It's not a decision on Keystone XL, but I think it's a positive signal."
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Leff; Editing by Toni Reinhold)