As the political rhetoric surrounding U.S. energy “independence” heats up, it is worth pointing out a few things to help provide much needed context. After all, there are plenty of things at play here in the coming months and years – resource access and regulatory policy, fuels choices, infrastructure build out, industrial policy, imports and exports, tax and investment decisions, the role of nuclear, subsidies for alternatives, efficiency priorities, SPR policy, environmental concerns and the use of energy as a geopolitical or foreign policy tool. Whew!For starters, the United States is already over 80 percent (up from 70 percent a decade ago) self sufficient when it comes to energy production and use. We are routinely described as the Saudi Arabia of coal, and have the largest nuclear fleet in the world. We are the world’s largest natural gas producer and the 3rd largest oil producer. Renewables account for roughly 10 percent of our energy mix and we have in place a variety of efficiency standards, mandates and incentive programs. That said, our transportation fleet is more than 94 percent dependent on liquid fuels, mostly petroleum based, and as oil is a globally traded commodity, changes in worldwide supply and demand consequently impact U.S. consumer prices.
In an attempt to limit that impact, we have routinely looked to conservation, fuel switching and CAFÉ standards to alter the demand curve; and to incentives, access, technology improvements, alternative fuels and higher prices to stimulate additional supplies. In times of crises, we have utilized the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to infuse the system with additional incremental oil supply. At the time of writing, largely as a result of the unconventional (shale gas and tight oil) revolution, U.S oil production is at its highest level in decades. Natural gas has eclipsed the previous output record set back in 1973. Oil imports comprise less than 46 percent (down from 60 percent) of total consumption, and refined product exports are averaging almost 3 million barrels per day, giving our refining sector an enormous “value add.” Projections indicate that we will be a net exporter of natural gas (and possibly oil) in the not too distant future.
Last year, fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) accounted for roughly 80 percent of global energy consumption. Renewables, including nuclear, made up the rest. And while the growth in solar and wind has been enormous, the base remains small and intermittency and infrastructure challenges remain large. Yet, in the wake of Macondo, Fukushima and the shale gas and tight oil revolutions, the energy landscape is rapidly changing. Higher prices and technology applications at scale are producing a revolution of their own – namely in the ability to access huge unconventional oil and gas resources both here and abroad.And this phenomenon is creating a new American energy reality, allowing the nation to increasingly become more energy self-sufficient, achieve a significant reduction in our imports/balance of payments, and concurrently create an engine for economic growth, a platform for technology and innovation, job creation, new tax and royalty revenues, and the revitalization of domestic industries.