U.S. oil independence no longer a joke

January 26, 2011

By Christopher Swann
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

America imports some 10 million barrels of crude oil daily. Presidents have paid lip service to reducing this dependence since the 1970s. But as drivers shun gas guzzlers and U.S. production rises, imports could be cut in half this decade. Oil self-sufficiency could even be within reach.

In 1973 Richard Nixon became the first in a line of U.S. presidents to decry the nation’s reliance on overseas crude. At the time America bought just over a third of its oil from abroad, and Nixon believed it was possible to become self- sufficient by 1980. Instead, import dependence climbed to 60 percent by 2005.

To be fair, much of this deterioration was beyond the control of politicians. Aging wells meant that America’s oil production declined steadily after Nixon’s famous pledge — sliding almost 50 percent between 1970 and 2008. The national penchant for muscle cars and other gas guzzlers made the situation worse. By 2007, drivers were burning an extra 3 million barrels a day — a fifth more than in the early 1970s.

However, both of these trends have recently swung into reverse. All of a sudden America’s oil wells seem more fecund. Output from the Gulf of Mexico could increase by 1.7 million barrels a day by the end of the decade, research by Credit Suisse suggests. And more advanced oil recovery techniques are prolonging the life of geriatric wells and giving access to formerly inaccessible fuel.

Meanwhile, gasoline demand in the U.S. appears to have passed a peak. Already, this combination has caused import dependency to fall back to around half total consumption. If Credit Suisse is right, imports could be cut roughly in half by 2020.

And that’s with energy policy on auto-pilot. A more active Congress could, for example, choose to tax emissions in general or gasoline in particular. Those or other moves could promote conservation and a switch from oil to cleaner, domestically produced natural gas. Add that to the trends already in place and, 40 years on from Nixon’s target date, his dream of oil self-sufficiency just might come true.


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This article paints a very rosy picture and assumes a lot of what-if scenarios that will likely not come to pass. Also missing from your notes is the fact that Americans are using less gasoline due to a stifling recession coupled with surging crude prices. I would be completely unsurprised to find the peak usage of oil by Americans coincides with our current financial debacle’s beginning and the quick ascent of crude prices on the commodities market.

Posted by sheffboyrd | Report as abusive

The recession is a factor, but if we hit all the alternatives, I think it is feasible.
We should have started years ago.
Energy independence in eight years
http://garygaddy.tripod.com/blog/index.b log?from=20071112

Posted by GaryGaddy | Report as abusive

“Energy independence” assumes the arbritrary state boundaries drawn during the enlightenment are still meaningful as we have discovered our true interdependence in all things resource and environment.

Posted by laserfocus | Report as abusive

In Green River region of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah the U.S. has oil shale reserves upwards of an estimate 2 trillion barrels – three times reserves of Saudi Arabia. When politics and economics converge America has the resource.

Posted by Redford | Report as abusive

Natural Gas “IS” the way to go. We’re going from Arab oil to Chinese batteries. way to go politicians..

Posted by swecllc | Report as abusive

As long as there still are lobbyists and the likes of Bush and Cheney with large oil interests and politicians in their back pocket – this will just be another ruse and historical non event.

Right now – there should be tariffs on oil imports. The extra money drawn in should be used for massive grants and incentives for alternative energy advancements in the form of awards to companies large and small.

Turn back on the coal energy business and uncap all those huge oil reserves in the midwest. As we move towards independance the clean energy restrictions can be slowly metered on without killing these important energy sources.

We are at war – financially China is kicking out but and making a laughing stock of our restrictive regulations and greedy oil politicians who are strangling progress.

Oil and gas created the terrorist economy and since we are at war with terrorist – cut the heads off of the snake – the oil and gas import dependance. How many trillions of dollars have been siphoned off via the middle east by greedy oil men with USA roots.

Abandon the carbon credit – which is already revealed as another massive greedy scheme to manipulate economies and steal global funds.

Posted by Butch_from_PA | Report as abusive

Indeed, oil consumption (due to a decrease in imports thanks to Peak Oil) will drop in the U.S. and they should be energy independent within a very short time. However, as to the consequences, these can only be dire. Look for clues in what happened to Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their oil imports were drastically cut and they suffered the economic consequences. Unfortunately, a fall in oil consumption leads to a decrease in living standards, the severity of which depends on how big the fall is. And don’t mention population growth, which just compounds the problem. Unless the author knows something we don’t, which is that the U.S. plans to start reducing its population to support a new era of energy independence.

Posted by tora201 | Report as abusive

I really think it all boils down to small common sense activities:
1. Businesses and individuals should use laptops instead of big clunky PC systems – Reduces the need for daily commute….it carries over.
2. New constructions should start incorporating solar energy.
3. Take advantage of govt. incentives, most energy companies offer incentives install solar or geothermal systems. Believe it or not, your power still connects to the power grid which you guessed it, gets it’s energy from imports.
4. When you do buy gas, buy from socially responsible companies (I won’t name any as this is not an advertising forum but all you have to do is look them up). Hint – there is a difference between socially responsible and socially marketable donations. The socially responsible ones not only fund research for alternate fuels but you’ll be surprised very few of them are American companies. I can only endorse the non profit CITGO.
5. Focus more on keeping your money by not necessarily filling up your tank every time you buy…..a full tank of gas will always make you go on mindless journeys.
6. Take public transportation if available, buy a bicycle…it’s healthy and needs no gas.
While these sound mundane, when done on a large scale the impact is tremendous


Posted by alani24 | Report as abusive

The weekly numbers posted by the department of energy simply don’t add up.
Yes, they say, the US imports around 10 million barrels of crude a day.
And, which you conveniently omitted, the US ALSO imports about one million barrels of finished product — gasoline, diesal, etc. — per day.

The US refineries process an average of 14 million barrels per day.

The US oil wells and other extraction services provide around 6 million barrels of crude a day … this of course is way, way down from their peak, which occured in 1973 (no, that is NOT a typo … US Peak oil happened happened on Nixon’s watch …)

But the oil companies, etc deliver between 19 and 20 million barrels of product to the retail outlets and consumers per day.

Doesn’t quite add up, does it.

But at least it shows that anyone who proposes US oil independence belongs in a looney bin …

Posted by chistletoe | Report as abusive

We have spent about 5 trillion dollars in military funding protecting the Persian/Arab Gulf oil flow from the Saudis and other OPEC islamofascist oil states, including Iran, since the first Bush Administration. The US has exported during that time, about another 4 Trillion dollars to various oil states to supply our horrendously inefficient cars, trucks, and SUVs etc with gasoline. If we had spent a mere 2.5 trillion dollars converting 100 million passenger vehicles of our automotive fleet to 40+ mpg vehicles during the past 20 years, we would be importing no oil right now. We would also have available probably have saved about 2 TRILLION DOLLARS more of national wealth wasted on oil imports, to grow our economy. When will we ever learn… We need a pay as you go $2 per gallon tax on gasoline to pay off the Gulf I and II Bush oil war debts. If that makes more american consumers of gasoline change to 50 mpg vehicles, so much the better. It is time to grow up and pay for the wars we have fought for oil. The price of Gasoline should include the price of the wars we fight for oil.

Posted by wildeagle | Report as abusive

Energy independence is the best way to reduce the trade deficit. Anyone who thinks otherwise probably owns oil stocks.

Posted by hujintaosson | Report as abusive

Thinking even further ahead, let’s reduce/eliminate world dependence on oil (not just our dependence), thereby reducing CO2 production and plastic trash accumulation, and so on. After all, we merely use oil for energy, plastics, solvents, and so on. Alternatives are available — let’s revolutionize the energy infrastructure; replace plastics with biodegradables, and so on. Innovation will be key. All you inventors out there, help develop breakthroughs — how many of you scientists are studying clean fusion possibilities? Perhaps hardly any, as “fusion” seems to have become a bad word among scientists — like “perpetual motion.” Let’s get over it and get over oil while we’re at it. One place to start: sonoluminescense-based fusion research…time to harness the power of your great minds. After all, mind power has long been behind our success as a nation — home of many great inventors and revolutionary thinkers…innovation has taken us here; it will take us beyond.

Posted by phermoan | Report as abusive