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The US is still far from energy independence

7 Nov 2012 by Jim Fickett.

While it is true that oil production in the US has increased with the advent of fracking, and also true that the US is independent in coal and essentially so in natural gas, there is no prospect any time soon of becoming independent in oil.

US oil production is rising, and one continues to hear a lot of talk about energy independence. E.g. from Bloomberg:

U.S. oil production rose to the highest in almost 18 years as a shale drilling boom cut reliance on foreign fuel and nudged the country closer to energy independence. …

The U.S. met 83% of its energy needs in first six months of 2012

I've covered data through 2010 before (No, the US is not progressing to energy independence), and present an update here.

Below, with data from the BP statistical review through 2011, is the fraction of US consumption covered by US production for coal, natural gas, oil, and the total of the three.

(The “Total” line in this graph may or may not be comparable to the Bloomberg number. They do not give details, but while the total in the graph covers only fossil fuels, it is possible Bloomberg is also including nuclear and renewables.)

The main point to keep in mind whenever you see claims about energy independence for the US is that coal, natural gas and oil are not interchangeable. Yes, the US is rich in coal, and produces more than it consumes. However there are no cars, trucks, trains or airplanes that run on coal. And although oil production is indeed increasing, we still import over half of what we use.

It is true that oil production is increasing, and perhaps in the long run America really will achieve oil independence. But although the current upturn is encouraging, it is clear, when one considers long-term volatility, that it is far too early to call a new trend. Here are the data from the Energy Information Administration:

Note that while US crude oil production is rising, it is certainly not “the highest in almost 18 years”. Again Bloomberg does not give details, but they are probably including natural gas liquids in “oil”. However natural gas liquids are not in any sense interchangeable with crude oil, so this is quite misleading.

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