Will the U.S. Declare Oil Independence in 2037?

The U.S. is now actually positioning itself as the world’s dominant – and reliable -- energy producer.

by Jim Offner, McClatchy News Service / April 14, 2014

Mark the year 2037 on your calendars.

That’s the year the U.S. will not have to import any more oil, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“The new Independence Day,” joked Phil Flynn, energy analyst with Chicago-based Price Futures Group.

But, he actually was serious.

“Since the Arab Oil Embargo, it’s been our nation’s goal to become energy independent, and there’s been a lot done in that time to use less oil and become more fuel-efficient.”

Advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling get much of the credit. Technology now can squeeze oil out of rocks. And, with net oil imports down from 13 million barrels a day in 2006 to about 5 million now, the U.S. is rising as a power player in the energy business, where it once was a craven customer that would pay whatever price one despot or another commanded. The U.S. is now actually positioning itself as the world’s dominant – and reliable -- energy producer.

Flynn compares this national accomplishment to landing a man on the moon.

“A few years ago it was pessimism, with people asking what happens when Saudi Arabia runs out of oil; now, we’re going to be the world’s biggest oil producer," he said.

It already has begun. According to the federal Energy Information Administration, total U.S. net imports of energy, measured in terms of energy content, declined in 2013 to their lowest level in more than two decades. Growth in the production of oil and natural gas displaced imports and supported increased petroleum product exports, driving most of the decline. Net energy imports decreased by 19 percent from 2012 to 2013.

Here's the irony: The federal government has fought this expansion. The number of drilling leases on federal lands that the Bureau of Land Management fell from more than 9,000 in 1988 to 1,468 last year. The number was 3,499 as recently as 2007. The Obama Administration has clamped access to oil and gas riches on federal property.

Production, meanwhile, is booming in the Eagle Ford and Bakken formations -- the former in Texas and the latter in North Dakota and Montana.

“President Obama said we couldn’t drill our way to energy independence, but we are,” Flynn said.

The motoring public will note gasoline prices continue to rise. But Flynn says prices are lower than a year ago and could be much higher now without the increased U.S. output.

Were it not for the riches fracking technology has unlocked, gas probably would be $8 a gallon now, instead of $3.50, Flynn said.

“It’s keeping a lid on prices," he said.

Forty years after the oil embargo, petroleum is still powering the U.S. economy. Big Green argues that it has a better solution, but it's Big Oil that has the goods, here and now, and there's more to come. Meanwhile, Flynn notes, Russia isn't trying to take over Ukraine over wind mills; it's all about oil and gas.

“Everybody’s heard about the shale gas revolution, but they haven’t realized that, with these same technologies, we’re producing a heck of a lot of oil out of these same rocks,” Flynn said.

In practical terms, this new oil and gas boom is keeping the national economy afloat.

“I shudder to think how the economy would be doing without it," Flynn said. "Let’s face it: This is one of the few growing industries in the country. The industry that has been revolutionized that is going to change the world is this energy boom in the United States."

Mark your calendars for Oil Independence Day. But, use a pencil.

"Private forecasters say it will come sooner," Flynn said.

©2014 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)