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A Look At Our (Mostly) Independent Energy Future

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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In my last post, I described how the past eight US presidents pledged to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. None have succeeded yet… but by the time President Obama leaves office, oil imports will be lower than when he arrived, but as I previously explained, it’s not all because of his administration.*

Now let’s build on that by taking a look at the EIA’s projection on total energy production and consumption into the future:

U.S. dependency on foreign oil has been decreasing–and that trend is projected to continue over the coming decades. And it’s not just due to the rise in domestic natural gas production. More efficient energy technologies along with rising energy prices have concurrently reduced demand.

The result? EIA expects a 4 percent net import share of total U.S. energy consumption by 2040! And that 4 percent isn’t likely going to need to travel very far. For example, consider America’s ‘foreign’ oil suppliers in 2012: Our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, provided well over 1/3 of imports alone. For comparison, we received 13 percent from Saudi Arabia and just 6 percent from Iraq.

The United States is looking a lot more energy independent in the years to come. And that’s a good thing.


* Government policies since the 1970s funded advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (already available since the 1930s and 1950s respectively). Later, high gas prices provided market incentives to locate new wells on private lands utilizing these technologies. Most recently, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 excluded hydraulic fracturing from underground injection regulations. It’s a rare instance in which markets, government, and technology worked together with a common goal. And succeeded.

This post originally appeared at Scientific American’s ‘Plugged In

Sheril Kirshenbaum About the Author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Follow on Twitter @Sheril_.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Uncle.Al 3:32 pm 01/14/2014

    Fracking is transient – five year wells. The cost/(net joule) extracted is much larger than traditional production. Production will wither unless Santa Barbara is reopened, ANWAR is fully drilled, and more. Most of a fission warhead’s output (or that of bacterial culture) is its last couple of doublings, then – near nothing more (aside from decay).

    When did macroeconomics ever work in the real world? Karl Marx had it locked, except the world is technological not agrarian. He was Harpo, Mao to Pol Pot. In all fairness, Milton Friedman and the Boys from Chicago ruined the US, then redoubled efforts with Augusto Pinchet. Obamunism is a new world order of cluelessness plus incapability, the whole of it SOP backed with guns.

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  2. 2. sault 6:26 pm 01/14/2014

    “the Energy Policy Act of 2005 excluded hydraulic fracturing from underground injection regulations. It’s a rare instance in which markets, government, and technology worked together with a common goal. And succeeded.”

    Well, the Act actually exempted “fracking” from the Clean Air and Clean Drinking Water Acts, saddling us with a legacy of pollution all so a favored industry can specifically benefit from damaging the environment even more.

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  3. 3. jerryd 9:06 pm 01/14/2014

    The EIA is good at telling what has happened but anything more than 2 yrs in the future, not so much. In fact really bad.

    Take the US oil production in 2040. Just where is this going to come from and who will pay the price? If we are producing oil at 20 percent the mentioned rate we’ll be doing good because we will have used most of it up.

    Tight oil/NG will peak only another mmbbls/day more oil in 2023 before it declines because the wells have to be replaced every yrs just to keep production the same, much less increase.

    Our other wells that last decades are getting on their last legs like Alaska that use to do 2mmbbls/day now under 800k/day.

    But what will kill oil is syn/bio, waste derived fuels all viable at $7/gal gasoline will be soon, many already. I drive my lightweight EV’s at a quarter of a gas versions costs. Facts are oil will soon price itself out of the market in under 20 yrs it’ll be too expensive to burn.

    Another is people can make their own fuels soon with simple machines that turn plastic, veg/animal oils into gasoline, diesel is coming.

    And if driving an EV as most smart people will in five yrs you can make your own at around $1.32/gal equivalent plus EV’s get far more M/PG equivalent with PV.

    It was right when it said independence will come from eff and fuel switching, not from more oil.

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  4. 4. Sydnie5201 9:47 pm 01/14/2014

    my friend’s sister makes $86/hr on the computer. She has been without work for eight months but last month her paycheck was $19635 just working on the computer for a few hours. blog link……

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  5. 5. sjn 2:27 am 01/15/2014

    And if current growth rates in fossil fuel consumption continue unchanged under this rosy scenario of “energy independence” with a new dirty oil via Fracking & tar sands scenario, we will burn through the IPCC’s entire net CO2 emissions to contain us within a 2 C temp rise buffer in less than 20 years.

    Why is Sci Am so irresponsible to print this fossil fuel propaganda. The editors either accept the science of climate change and act and publish accordingly, or they are no better than Fox Spews climate denialism.

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  6. 6. rkipling 12:49 pm 01/15/2014

    What you people fail to understand is that all viewpoints should be heard. Pravda published only one view (look up CCCP if you are too young to remember Pravda.) How did that work out for them? The answer to speech with which you disagree is more speech not censorship. Hopefully the additional speech would contain objective facts without insults, but what is allowed remains the purview of the individual blogger.

    Once you close your mind to new information and no longer believe periodic reassessment of your own views is useful, you have left the realm of science and entered the kingdom of politics/faith.

    Articles and comments here are highly unlikely to have any influence on environmental policy whatsoever. If you keep that in mind your comments might seem less frenetic. Less hysterical comments might even be more persuasive?

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  7. 7. Sisko 1:19 pm 01/15/2014

    rkipling- it is interesting that some people advocate eliminating debate or calling other people names because of their position on the topic. It does not seem to matter whether the positions are valid or not.

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  8. 8. rkipling 2:08 pm 01/15/2014


    I don’t claim to understand the underlying psychology at work in these situations, but I can speculate about people’s behavior. My guess is that those you speak of see no need for validation. They hold that there is no position but their position and Gore is its prophet. This actually can apply to all sides in this debate. I just don’t know anyone analogous to Gore from an opposing position.

    I remain skeptical that a few hundred ppmv difference in CO2 can make a noticeable change in the average biosphere temperature. I suspect this will only be settled over time, a long time.

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  9. 9. jerryd 11:42 pm 01/15/2014

    Rkipling, have you seen this vid? It explains it well from a skeptics point of view.

    Skeptic scientist Muller’s 3 yrs study of all of it, the IPPC data, paid partly by Koch that show it’s likely worse than the IPPC said, turned out to be an honest skeptic/scientist? Anyone interested in the facts on GW, etc should watch this as it clears much up from a honest deep look at the data.

    NACW 2013: Keynote Address by Dr. Richard Muller, UC Berkeley …

    But even without GW effects, we need to get off FF for pollution, national and economic reasons anyway, No?

    Thanks for finally saying what I have always said, that you are a denier.

    Now if you are wrong as the data shows, won’t that be too late?

    Wouldn’t that be a shame when with less that 3 yrs of FF costs, RE, syn/bio/waste fuels, small inherently safe nukes with NG as a bridge fuel could get to where energy costs fifty percent of now be better?

    Or continued wars, pollution, economic instability, higher taxes, GW, etc? Which is a better choice not even including GW?

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  10. 10. jerryd 11:50 pm 01/15/2014

    Sisko, when one lies like you do with such poor data people just might call you what you are, a bald faced liar.

    Just where are your morals Sisko to keep up the lies you do? You’ve been proven wrong in so many ways even a biased person knows they are lies.

    It’s people like you that make life hard and expensive including your kids and theirs by trying to stall the needed changes for their better life. You should be so proud.

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  11. 11. jerryd 11:58 pm 01/15/2014

    rkipling , maybe it’s you that isn’t keeping an open mind.

    While different viewpoints is great, it only works if people are honest unlike many here that know they are lying yet keep doing it.

    It’s false equivalence to say both well founded facts based views are equal to ones made up of selective data to out and out lies, no?

    And you won’t hardly ever give any facts, just harass those who put good data up and cheer on the deniers. And now turns out you deny GW too. What a surprise.

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  12. 12. rkipling 12:08 am 01/16/2014


    When you say denier what you really mean is heretic. I’ve never said that Earth isn’t in a warming trend. I’m just unsure what is driving it. And I am skeptical that such a small concentration change of CO2 is the cause. Sure the percentage change is large, but the overall concentration is still very small. I suspect any warming effect from the increased CO2 would be swamped by all the other factors affecting average world temperature.

    Unlike you, arguing about this is not my main purpose in life. We will see as time goes on. The one thing I can say with high confidence is that whatever is written here will not change policies regarding world energy sources. So believe whatever you like. Your view of me and your view regarding climate change don’t matter to me in the slightest.

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  13. 13. oldfarmermac 8:42 am 01/16/2014

    About that small percentage of co2 not being enough to matter…….

    There are probably uncountable natural and man made systems that are subject to wildly variable change if there amount of some substance normally present in a minute amount varies from the usual.

    Ordinarily the earth is in approximate balance heat wise with the amour getting in thru the atmosphere and getting out again very close to equal from year to year.

    Of course there are various natural events such as volcanism, continental drift,Milankovich cycles, and volcanism that change the balance over time- sometimes slowly, sometimes very quickly as in the case of a really big volcanic eruption.

    Now consider the case of a family budget in a hypothetical world that changes only very slowly ; the family takes in twenty dollars thousand dollars a year and spends twenty thousand a year( result happiness).

    But if it starts spending twenty thousand fifty dollars a year, after a while the shortage starts multiplying it self because each year the previous shortage must be refinanced and more interest paid, even as the principle owed increases another fifty bucks. ( result misery, my hat tip to Dickens.)

    Now if the family starts saving fifty bucks per year, over a long period, there builds up a substantial savings account. Fifty bucks isn’t much compared to twenty thousand but it adds up over time. Thats global warming and co2 in a nutshell.

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  14. 14. rkipling 9:21 am 01/16/2014


    Your example may make sense to you, but it has no application to the workings of thermodynamics. At least your presentation was civil.

    Fifty years of farming experience may allow to to grow fantastic rutabagas, but it doesn’t qualify you to design bridges for example.

    Keep on truckin’.

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  15. 15. abolitionist 11:45 am 01/18/2014


    Aren’t you the one who posts stuff about how cheap solar is but who doesn’t back them up?

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  16. 16. hkraznodar 6:07 pm 01/21/2014

    The right wing equivalent of Al Gore is hard to identify. Dick Cheney was pretty open about gleefully steal everything that wasn’t nailed down. That conflicts with Al Gore destroying the environment and living extravagantly while proclaiming sustainability. What we need is a right winger that gleefully steals everything that isn’t nailed down but lies about it. The sad fact is that right wingers openly steal everything they can and freely admit it, but then say we should like it because they are patriots.

    Politics is about being a liar and a sociopath. Science is about finding the truth. Two diametrically opposed ideas.

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