United States energy independence

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US energy product trade, 2000–2017
Trend of net energy imports into the United States, 1985–2013
Sources of crude oil imports, 1985–2015

U.S. energy independence relates to the goal of reducing the United States imports of petroleum and other foreign sources of energy. Energy independence is espoused by those who want to leave the U.S. unaffected by global energy supply disruptions, and to restrict reliance upon politically unstable states for its energy security. Energy independence is highly concerned with oil, the source of the country's principal transport fuels.

In total energy consumption, the U.S. was between 86% and 91% self-sufficient in 2016.[1] In May 2011, the country became a net exporter of refined petroleum products.[2] As of 2014, the United States was the world's third-largest producer of crude oil, after Saudi Arabia and Russia,[3] and second-largest exporter of refined products, after Russia.[4]

As of March 2015, 85% of crude oil imports came from (in decreasing volume): Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Colombia.[5] Nineteen percent of imported oil comes from the Middle East.[6] The fraction of crude oil consumed in the U.S. that was imported went from 35% immediately before the 1973 oil crisis, peaked at 60% in 2005, and then returned to 35% by 2013[7] thanks to increased domestic production[8] from the shale oil boom.[9] Beginning in the 1970s, exports of crude oil were illegal without a permit; in 2013, the United States physically exported a relatively small amount of oil, and only to Canada.[10] The ban was repealed in 2015.[11]

Greater energy self-sufficiency, it was claimed, would prevent major supply disruptions like the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis from recurring. Proponents argue that the potential for political unrest in major oil suppliers, such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Nigeria, is abundant, and often causes great fluctuations in crude oil prices (especially in the short term).

Large individual U.S. pipelines and other fuel infrastructure and extraction projects are controversial issues in U.S. politics.

Historical trend[edit]

Trend of US net imports (imports minus exports) of natural gas, 1973–2017 (data from US EIA)

In the early 20th century the United States became a major oil supplier to the world. World War II prompted a Synthetic Liquid Fuels Program but it did not go beyond research. In mid-century the country shifted from being a major exporter to a net importer. An import quota imposed in 1959 limited imports to a fraction of domestic production until 1973.[12] After the 1973 oil crisis, the United States Department of Energy and Synthetic Fuels Corporation were created to address the problem of fuel import dependency.

The U.S.'s dependence on foreign oil rose from 26 percent to 47 percent between 1985 and 1989.[13] According to the Washington & Jefferson College Energy Index, by 2012, American energy independence had decreased by 22% since the Presidency of Harry Truman.[14] The U.S.'s imports of foreign oil fell to 36 percent in 2013, down from a high of 60 percent in 2006.[15]

Many proponents of energy independence look to the United States' untapped domestic oil reserves, either known or potential. Those who favor increasing domestic oil production often suggest removing many of the limitations on oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (see Arctic Refuge drilling controversy) and the outer continental shelf. Foreign dependence is not the only factor in North American energy politics, however; environmental concerns around land and water pollution and greenhouse gases are also matters of controversy.


Some proponents of U.S. energy independence promote wider use of alternatives such as ethanol fuel, methanol, biodiesel, plug-in hybrids and other alternative propulsion. A 2013 report published by the Fuel Freedom Foundation said that without a shift to domestic feedstocks for fuel, such as natural gas and biomass, the US would not be able to achieve energy independence.[16] As of 2014, the United States imposes an import tariff of 54 cents a gallon on ethanol fuel (there is no such import tariff on oil or methanol fuel). Ethanol fuel in Brazil is produced from sugarcane, which yields much more fuel per acre than the corn used for ethanol production in the United States.

In the United States, oil is primarily consumed as fuel for cars, buses, trucks and airplanes (in the form of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel). Two thirds of U.S. oil consumption is due to the transportation sector. A national strategy designed to shift all transportation to a combined use of alternative fuels and plug-in hybrids is predicted[17] to make the U.S. independent of petroleum (oil).

North American energy independence[edit]

Oil imports are most problematic in domestic politics and energy security when they come from countries that are openly hostile to US foreign policy and interests (Iran, Venezuela, and formerly Iraq), are former or potential future rivals (Russia) or have questionable human rights practices (Saudi Arabia). Sometimes an alternative 'North American energy independence is proposed,[by whom?] by which North America as a unit should be energy independent, but in which the U.S. could still import energy from Canada and Mexico, which are less problematic allies and more tightly economically integrated.

A related, less absolute, policy may be called North American energy security. In 2012 in an editorial to Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail Mexican president elect Enrique Peña Nieto, called North American energy security a "common goal" of Canada and Mexico.[18]

The benefits are argued to be similar to U.S. energy independence—the reduction of North America's energy dependence on unstable regions such as the Middle East and South America and accepting supplies from the reliable North American Free Trade Area, reducing exposure to terrorism abroad; lower balance of trade and foreign exchange stresses on the U.S. economy in an era when suppliers may begin to price oil in euros; the development of renewable energy sources to displace fossil fuels; and the promotion of energy conservation technology exportable to energy-poor nations.

Programs to limit US energy interests by Canada and Mexico[edit]

In Canada and Mexico there is also the concern not to have energy policy dictated by the United States, as well as tension over U.S. ownership of energy companies.

In 1937 Mexico passed a constitutional amendment to nationalize its oil industry, which led to the creation of Pemex, the national oil company. There have been several proposals to privatize Pemex since, but they have never come to fruition as many Mexicans fear foreign control of this strategic industry.

The 1957 Canadian election was fought partially in response to the 1956 Pipeline Debate which concerned whether or not the government should allow a U.S.-owned company to build a trans-Canadian gas pipeline and whether the route should be entirely within Canada or partly through the United States. The right-leaning Progressive Conservatives and leftist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation opposition parties opposed American involvement in the pipeline while the Liberal government supported it. The Liberals were defeated in the 1957 election.

In 1973 Canada created its own state energy company Petro-Canada. It began operations in 1976, though it bought assets from private companies rather than seizing them as in many other countries. In 1980 the National Energy Program was launched to create oil self-sufficiency within Canada. It attempted to use tax incentives to discourage oil exports (mostly from Western Canada, primarily the province of Alberta) to the US, and redirect these towards to the oil importing provinces of Eastern Canada. The Foreign Investment Review Agency was also created to screen foreign (mostly U.S.) takeovers of Canadian companies. These policies were bitterly opposed by the provincial government of Alberta, and were repealed and reversed during the Conservative government of 1984–1993 which sought closer economic ties with the U.S., including the Canada–US Free Trade Agreement of 1988.


In a 2012 poll of energy experts by Foreign Policy magazine, almost two-thirds of respondents said energy independence was not a sensible goal.[19]

Highlighting the difficulty of separating domestic and foreign oil sources, journalist Robert Bryce stated in 2008 that "the trends of energy interdependence are growing and are inexorable" and branded the idea of being able to choose where your oil came from as "hogwash".

The structure of the argument of critics is arranged as follows:

  1. Energy independence will not decrease U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
    1. Interests in the Persian Gulf, including the protection of worldwide energy security upon which the global economy is dependent, will remain a U.S. priority.[20]
    2. Terrorism will not decline in the Middle East if the US ceases to buy oil, because terrorism is not funded by oil money.[20]
    3. Although vast oil supplies are found in an unstable region subject to difficult geopolitics,[21] these geopolitics will continue to be fueled by other large consumers of oil, such as China, whether or not the U.S. achieves energy independence. U.S. energy independence will not cause a U.S. pull-out from the Middle East, it will not decrease terrorism, and it will not foster stability or reform in the region.
  2. Renewable energy sources can be extremely inefficient, as in the case of corn-based biofuels, which requires massive government subsidies and also enormous amounts of water and chemicals to grow, and causes significant air pollution when burned.[20] Other renewables, namely wind and solar power, are expensive and intermittent, and lack the infrastructure and technology needed to properly store the energy they harness from the environment:
    1. Natural gas was not a viable portion of US energy as of 2008, since we may have peaked in domestic reserves: U.S. imports of natural gas from Canada tripled since 1973.[20]
      1. However, US gross natural gas production set new all-time record highs each year from 2007 through 2013, due in part to new methods to extract Shale gas. Despite record withdrawals, the volume of US proved reserves still in the ground also stands at an all-time high, according to reserve data for the end of 2011. US net imports of natural gas peaked in 2007, then declined rapidly, and in 2013 were 60 percent below 2007.[22]
    2. In the absence of breeder reactors or fusion reactors, nuclear power plants aren't a solution to energy independence either, since uranium must be imported: currently, 80% of U.S. uranium is imported, mainly from Russia and Canada.[23]
    3. Although the U.S. enjoys massive coal reserves able to power the country at current rates of energy consumption for 200 years,[20] the hope that the country could use this resource as a liquid to fuel the transportation sector is unlikely. Although currently the U.S. remains a net coal exporter of lower-quality coal, a large and, as of 2008, increasing portion of coal is being imported due to the cheaper, high-quality, low-sulfur foreign coal needed by power plants coping with air-quality regulations.[20]
      1. However, from 2007 to 2011, US coal imports fell by 64%, and coal exports rose by 81%. As of 2011, coal exports from the US were eight times the tonnage of imports, and the US was the world's fourth-largest exporter of coal.[24]
    4. U.S. oil reserves cannot be relied upon: U.S. oil production in 2008 had been steadily declining since 1970.[20]
      1. From that point, US oil production rose rapidly during 2009–2013; US crude oil production for 2013 was 49% higher than that of 2008.[25]
    5. Energy-efficient electrical and electronic devices require rare earth elements which mostly come from Inner Mongolia,[26] and lithium, which mostly comes from the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.[27]

Benefits of oil dependence[edit]

Roger Howard[28] has argued[29] in The Wall Street Journal that oil dependence has significant benefits for the US and other oil-importing nations. First, the world's major oil exporters are highly dependent on their oil revenues, and fear rapid drops in the price of oil, such as occurred in late 2008 and in 2014/2015. Second, this fear restrains destructive actions by exporters: Howard cites the example of Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia. Russia's stock market plunged, and "within a week capital outflow reached a massive $16 billion, suddenly squeezing domestic credit while the ruble collapsed in value." He also gives the example of Libya, where Muammar al-Gaddafi gave up his Pakistani nuclear weapons in exchange for the US lifting its economic sanctions, which had prevented Libya from increasing its oil production.

In his 2006 State of the Union Address, George W. Bush used the phrase addicted to oil, a phrase widely discussed in the media.[30][31][32]

Energy resilience and AERS[edit]

Andy Grove argues that energy independence is a flawed and infeasible objective, particularly in a network of integrated global exchange. He suggests instead that the objective should be energy resilience: resilience goes hand in hand with adaptability, and it also is reflected in important market ideas like substitutability. Resilience is one of the best features of market processes; the information transmission function of prices means that individual buyers and sellers can adapt to changes in supply and demand conditions in a decentralized way. His suggestion for how to increase the resilience of the U.S. energy economy is to shift use from petroleum to electricity (electrification), that can be produced using multiple sources of energy, including renewables.[33]

In 2008 former vice president Al Gore challenged the United States to commit to producing all electricity from renewable sources (AERS) like solar and wind power in 10 years.[34][35] Both the Center for Resource Solutions and current president Barack Obama have publicly stated they support Al Gore's AERS goal.[36]

Canada is the worlds second largest producer of hydroelectricity (after China) and exported three billion dollars worth of electricity to the US in 2015, mostly from the major hydro-producing provinces of Québec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia.[37]

Obama administration[edit]

Former U.S. President Barack Obama repeatedly stated that the U.S. had begun "freeing ourselves from foreign oil" including during his 2012 reelection speech.[38][39] Canadian observers noted that his usage of "foreign" did not include Canada. Yet in November 2015, Obama rejected the proposal to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast because of domestic environmental concerns over water quality as well as the general antipathy of the environmental movement to pipeline building, and the production practices in the source (the Athabasca oil sands).[40]

Trump administration[edit]

In March 2017, U.S. President Donald J. Trump announced the granting of a permit for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, calling it "the first of many infrastructure projects" that he intended to approve in order to put more Americans to work. The permitting came two months after Trump, only days into his presidency, signed an executive order aimed at reviving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.[41]

In May 2017, President Trump promised "complete" independence from foreign sources of oil. Trump said, "Imagine a world in which our foes and the oil cartels can no longer use energy as a weapon. Wouldn't that be nice?" CNN reported U.S. energy independence was "tantalizingly close."[42]

During his administration's Energy Week celebration of June 2017, President Trump announced that he was formally seeking a review of U.S. energy policies, in order to help the Nuclear power industry prosper. While delivering a speech at the Energy Department's headquarters, Trump indicated, "A complete review of U.S. nuclear energy policy will help us find new ways to revitalize this crucial energy resource." Trump also announced that the Interior Department would be kicking off the formal process to expand areas available for offshore drilling of oil and natural gas. He vowed to create "American energy dominance".[43]

During Energy Week, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry explained energy dominance: "An energy dominant America means self-reliant. It means a secure nation, free from the geopolitical turmoil of other nations who seek to use energy as an economic weapon. An energy dominant America will export to markets around the world, increasing our global leadership and our influence."[44]

In January 2018, Forbes discussed a New York Times article entitled, "Oil Boom Gives the U.S. a New Edge in Energy and Diplomacy". Forbes noted how the piece essentially pointed out the reality that the Trump administration plan for U.S. energy dominance was proceeding. However, also noted how the article failed to actually give the Trump policies any overt credit for making it happen. The Forbes article then summed up the Trump plan for U.S. energy dominance as it was articulated by the administration. The positive results, as the New York Times noted, is a sudden enhanced bargaining posture for the United States.[45][46]

In May 2018, it was reported that U.S. liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports had quadrupled. The value of U.S. LNG exports was estimated to reach nearly $5 billion in 2018 and $12 billion in 2019.[47]

Following the November 2018 elections, a "Green New Deal" wing emerged in the Democratic Party.[48][49] The proposed Green New Deal would essentially cut the U.S. military spending in "at least" half, end 87 percent of U.S. energy (including nuclear, natural gas, oil and coal) and ban cars in the U.S. by "replacing non-essential individual means of transport with high-quality and modern mass transit", all within eleven years.[50] However, following the February 2019 formal announcement of the proposal, Janet Redman, head of Greenpeace USA claimed, "The fossil fuel industry will not transition willingly and on its own to life-sustaining, renewable practices, because it is determined to trash our planet for its profit no matter the cost." Several Democratic Party candidates, who announced running for president, endorsed the initiative and signaled the Green New Deal would be an ongoing issue in the 2020 United States presidential election.[51]

In early December 2018, it was reported that the U.S. had turned into a net exporter of oil "last week", thus breaking nearly 75 continuous years of dependence on foreign oil. Reportedly, the U.S. sold overseas a net of 211,000 barrels a day of crude and refined products such as gasoline and diesel. This, compared to net imports of about three million barrels a day on average previously during 2018 and the prior annual peak of more than 12 million barrels a day during 2005, as confirmed by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.[52]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Energy Information Administration (May 19, 2017). "U.S. Energy Facts Explained". Retrieved 2017-11-30.
  2. ^ Energy Information Administration (March 12, 2015). "How much of the oil produced in the United States is consumed in the United States?". Retrieved 2015-05-30.
  3. ^ CIA. "The World Factbook – COUNTRY COMPARISON :: CRUDE OIL – PRODUCTION". Retrieved 2015-05-31.
  4. ^ "The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency". www.cia.gov. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  5. ^ "Petroleum and other Liquids – Company Level Imports". Energy Information Administration. Retrieved 2015-05-31.
  6. ^ Daniel Yergin. "Energy Independence". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  7. ^ Yergin, Daniel. "Congratulations, America. You're (Almost) Energy Independent". POLITICO Magazine. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  8. ^ "U.S. Field Production of Crude Oil (Thousand Barrels)". www.eia.gov. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  9. ^ Actual net imports also peaked in 2005, regardless of changes in demand: http://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MCRNTUS2&f=A
  10. ^ "The Case for Allowing U.S. Crude Oil Exports". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  11. ^ "America lifts its ban on oil exports". December 18, 2015. Retrieved February 6, 2019 – via The Economist.
  12. ^ "OPEC". Econlib. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  13. ^ Abelson, Philip H. (October 26, 1990). "Transportation Fuels". Science. 250 (4980): 485. doi:10.1126/science.250.4980.485. PMID 17751464.
  14. ^ Luna, Taryn (April 30, 2012). "W&J College index details U.S. energy consumption". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved December 16, 2012.
  15. ^ Thomas L. Friedman (August 24, 2013). "Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Aronoff and Taft (2014). "Is Energy Independence Really Possible In The United States?"
  17. ^ "The Silver Bullet: Plug-in Biofuel Hybrids". PluginCars.com. February 19, 2010. Retrieved 2017-04-01.
  18. ^ Peña Nieto, Enrique (November 27, 2012). "For Mexico and Canada, there's room to grow". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved January 27, 2017.
  19. ^ Yergin, Daniel; "How is Energy Remaking the World?" Foreign Policy July/August 2012 pg. 61
  20. ^ a b c d e f g Bryce, Robert. Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence". New York, NY: PublicAffairs, 2008.
  21. ^ "Balestrini, Santiago. "The Nuclear Option for Long-Term Energy Independence: Report for the 2006/2007 Sam Nunn Security Program Energy Policy Exercise". Pp. 1–26. December 16, 2008" (PDF). janosburg.net. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  22. ^ US Energy Information Administration, Natural gas data, accessed March 21, 2014.
  23. ^ Yamanaka, Megumi. "US demand for uranium seen rising sharply", International Herald Tribune. April 16, 2007. http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/15/bloomberg/bxcom.php. December 16, 2008
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  25. ^ US Energy Information Administration, Crude oil production, accessed March 21, 2014.
  26. ^ Farago, Robert (July 23, 2009). "The Truth About Rare Earths and Hybrids". International Business Times.
  27. ^ Mills, Mark (May 5, 2008). "Go Long on Lithium". Forbes.
  28. ^ author of The Oil Hunters: Exploration and Espionage in the Middle East, 2008, Hambledon Continuum, London / New York, ISBN 978-1-84725-232-6
  29. ^ An Ode to Oil, Wall Street Journal, 11/29/08
  30. ^ "The State of the Union: A Look Between the Lines". NPR.org. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  31. ^ "MSN - Outlook, Office, Skype, Bing, Breaking News, and Latest Videos". MSN. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  32. ^ Bush in a lighter shade of green, BBC News
  33. ^ Lynne Kiesling. "Andy Grove: Energy resilience, not energy independence". www.knowledgeproblem.com. Archived from the original on October 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  34. ^ Jasmin Melvin; Deborah Zabarenko. "Planet Ark : Gore: Make All US Electricity From Renewable Sources". Reuters. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  35. ^ Ucilia Wang. "Al Gore Sets Energy Goal". greentechmedia.com. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  36. ^ "Center for Resource Solutions Supports Al Gore's 100% Renewable Energy Goal". www.resource-solutions.org. Archived from the original on January 5, 2009. Retrieved 2008-09-27.
  37. ^ "HTTP 404 - File not found - HTTP 404 - Fichier non trouvé". www.neb.gc.ca. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  38. ^ Rosenthal, Elisabeth (November 12, 2012). "Report Sees U.S. as Top Oil Producer, Overtaking Saudi Arabia, in 5 Years". Retrieved February 6, 2019 – via NYTimes.com.
  39. ^ https://calgaryherald.com/business/Obama+could+dally+Keystone+decision/7516081/story.html
  40. ^ Koring, Paul (November 6, 2015). "Obama rejects TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on January 20, 2016. Retrieved November 6, 2015.
  41. ^ Brady Dennis and Steven Mufson, The Washington Post, As Trump administration grants approval for Keystone XL pipeline, an old fight is reignited, March 24, 2017
  42. ^ Matt Egan, CNN Business, U.S. energy independence looks 'tantalizingly close', First published August 9, 2016
  43. ^ Timothy Cama | The Hill, Trump vows to create 'American energy dominance', https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/340135-trump-rolls-out-actions-to-boost-nuclear-fossil-fuels, June 29, 2017
  44. ^ Tom DiChristopher | CNBC, Trump wants America to be 'energy dominant.' Here's what that means, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/28/trump-america-energy-dominant-policy.html, June 28, 2017
  45. ^ Clifford Krauss | New York Times, Oil Boom Gives the U.S. a New Edge in Energy and Diplomacy, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/28/business/energy-environment/oil-boom.html, January 28, 2018
  46. ^ David Blackmon | Forbes, The Oil And Gas Situation: Trump's American Energy Dominance Agenda Becoming Reality, https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidblackmon/2018/01/29/the-oil-and-gas-situation-trumps-american-energy-dominance-agenda-becoming-realty/#6b4aa081676b, January 29, 2018
  47. ^ DeVore, Chuck. "U.S. Liquefied Natural Gas Exports Just Quadrupled -- It's Good For The Economy & National Security". Forbes. Retrieved February 6, 2019.
  48. ^ Kaufman, Alexander C. (2018-11-07). "Democrats' Green New Deal Wing Takes Shape Amid Wave Of Progressive Climate Hawk Wins". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 2018-11-13. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  49. ^ Carlock, Greg; McElwee, Sean. "Why the Best New Deal Is a Green New Deal". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Archived from the original on 2018-11-13. Retrieved 2018-11-13.
  50. ^ Jim Geraghty (January 9, 2019). "The Not-So-Pretty Fine Print of the 'Green New Deal'". National Review.
  51. ^ Dino Grandoni | The Washington Post, The Energy 202: No 'unanimity' on Green New Deal, says key House Democrat, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-energy-202/2019/02/08/the-energy-202-no-unanimity-on-green-new-deal-says-key-house-democrat/5c5c76591b326b66eb098656, February 8, 2019
  52. ^ Javier Blas, Bloomberg, "The U.S. Just Became a Net Oil Exporter for the First Time in 75 Years", December 6, 2018

External links[edit]