No, the US is not progressing to energy independence

8 Feb 2012 by Jim Fickett.

The US progressed from producing 69% of the fossil fuels it consumed in 2000 to producing 73% of consumption in 2010. This increase was partly due to temporary conditions in the shale gas market but, even if it could be continued, it would take another 70 years, at this rate, to achieve fossil fuel energy independence.

There has been a lot of talk lately about the US being well on its way to achieving energy independence. Technically, independence would mean producing more energy than we consume; emotionally, it would mean not having to buy oil from OPEC. Bloomberg Business Week has been a leading cheerleader. Today there was an article entitled, Americans Gaining Energy Independence With U.S. as Top Producer.

Domestic oil output is the highest in eight years. The U.S. is producing so much natural gas that, where the government warned four years ago of a critical need to boost imports, it now may approve an export terminal. Methanex Corp., the world’s biggest methanol maker, said it will dismantle a factory in Chile and reassemble it in Louisiana to take advantage of low natural gas prices. And higher mileage standards and federally mandated ethanol use, along with slow economic growth, have curbed demand.

The result: The U.S. has reversed a two-decade-long decline in energy independence, increasing the proportion of demand met from domestic sources over the last six years to an estimated 81 percent through the first 10 months of 2011, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from the U.S. Department of Energy. That would be the highest level since 1992.

Let's see this supposedly strong uptrend:

(From the BP statistical review dated 2011; data through 2010; click for larger image.)

In the case of oil, which matters most, the US produced 40% as much as it consumed in 2000, and … 40% as much as it consumed in 2010. No progress at all on oil. In the case of coal, the US really is independent, producing more than it consumes, and there does seem to be a very gradual upward trend, from 100% in 2000 to 106% in 2010. Natural gas is the one in the headlines these days and, though independence will probably be achieved in natural gas, at least temporarily, we were already producing over 80% of consumption even in 2000. Overall, the US went from producing 69% of its consumption of fossil fuels in 2000 to 73% in 2010. Some small progress, but clearly a paradigm shift would be required to achieve energy independence.

Natural gas production is high right now not because the US can economically produce huge amounts of gas, but rather because there was a shale deposit land grab and companies were forced to drill in order to hold onto leases. So natural gas production is currently unnaturally high, and production is not likely to increase as much as some think. Even if it does, natural gas and coal are not a replacement for oil, and we will be importing oil from OPEC for a very long time yet.

One might also want to look at the situation for North America as a whole, since relations between the US, Canada, and Mexico are more cordial than between the US and the middle east. North America is closer to energy independence than the US alone is but, again, the situation is pretty much static, and North America is also likely to be importing oil for a long time.