In a front page story on Friday, the New York Times covered a surprising new development that could revolutionize the way America powers itself and conducts foreign policy: The US is surprisingly close to becoming self-reliant on energy. With oil and especially gas production booming due to fracking, deep-water drilling, and new oil discoveries, American energy production is growing rapidly—America already is a net exporter of some refined energy products, and could possibly become an energy producer on par with the oil giants of the Middle East:
Not only has the United States reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20 percent in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency. The natural gasindustry, which less than a decade ago feared running out of domestic gas, is suddenly dealing with a glut so vast that import facilities are applying for licenses to export gas to Europe and Asia.
National oil production, which declined steadily to 4.95 million barrels a day in 2008 from 9.6 million in 1970, has risen over the last four years to nearly 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department projects that daily output could reach nearly seven million barrels by 2020. Some experts think it could eventually hit 10 million barrels — which would put the United States in the same league as Saudi Arabia.
This is truly great news for America. While the long time periods involved and the inherent uncertainty surrounding oil and gas prospecting cast doubt upon some of the more grandiose predictions, the piece provides ample room for optimism. An energy independent America would be both more prosperous and more independent in its foreign policy. Even if we fail to achieve full independence, the benefits of expanded energy production will be immense.
While energy independence will have the greatest impact on economics and foreign policy, there is a bit of political irony here as well. Despite Obama’s promises on the campaign trail of a greener America less dependent on brown jobs and fossil fuels, the explosion of resource extraction under his watch may bring America closer to energy independence than it has been for decades.
With an election fast approaching, Obama will doubtless be happy to take credit for this development. Yet even the New York Times, not generally a fan of the former president, acknowledges that much of the credit for this change belongs with the Bush administration:
The Bush administration worked from the start on finding ways to unlock the nation’s energy reserves and reverse decades of declining output, with Mr. Cheney leading a White House energy task force that met in secret with top oil executives. [...]
The Bush administration also opened large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico and the waters off Alaska to exploration, granting lease deals that required companies to pay only a tiny share of their profits to the government.
These measures primed the pump for the burst in drilling that began once oil prices started rising sharply in 2005 and 2006. With the world economy humming — and China, India and other developing nations posting astonishing growth — demand for oil began outpacing the easily accessible supplies.
In 2008, Obama campaigned against the record of the Bush administration, yet one of the most significant successes of his presidency may come as a result of his predecessor’s legacy. With foreign policy and now with energy, Obama’s administration has often done best where it followed the Bush agenda most closely—just don’t expect to hear about this during the campaign. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are in the mood right now for discussions of the very large areas of common ground the Bush and Obama administrations share, so Via Meadia will say nothing more at this point about such an indelicate subject.