The U.S. Oil Addiction
Energy and Capital's Weekend Edition
Year after year, we put our trust in the Middle East.
We may not get along with many of the region's nations... and the region itself might be under severe geopolitical stress...
But we trust it all the same.
We can't get by without oil from Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and equally tense African nations like Nigeria, Libya, and Angola — and for good reason.
The Middle East boasted 48.1% of the world's proven oil reserves in 2011, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy. And ten of the twelve member nations of OPEC, which controls 72% of the world's oil reserves, are located in the Middle East and Africa.
But the history of tensions in and with the Middle East and Africa is undeniable. Civil and political unrest is the most common state of being in many of these places.
When it comes to our relationship with this part of the world and our desperate need for crude, we haven't learned our lesson.
We still continue to import OPEC oil at an average rate of around 4.5 million barrels per day.
We've put sanctions on Iranian oil due to threats (including an attack on Israel) and the fact that Iran is operating a covert nuclear program of an unclear nature... yet the nation controls the Strait of Hormuz through which 17 million barrels per day — around 20% of the world's traded oil — flow, making it the most significant oil choke point in the world.
We've imported high amounts of oil from Nigeria (1 million bpd in 2010), but that rate has been falling due to oil siphoning and attacks on the nation's pipelines.
And this week the oil markets were rattled as Israel attacked the Gaza Strip and killed Ahmed al-Jabari, the leader of the Hamas military wing. These attacks, a response to violence from Gaza, were certainly unsettling...
But they weren't the worst part.
Israel has also been firing in response to attacks from Syria.
Israel threatened to attack Iran. Libyan oil production is still recovering from the production slowdown caused by last year's government riots.
The future of the Strait of Hormuz is uncertain as Iran reels from the sanctions.
And somehow, year after year, we choose to look past the problems of this region and the threats the unrest causes to our oil supply.
Because that's how badly we need their oil.
This year's World Energy Outlook released this week by the IEA says the U.S. could avoid this scenario in the years to come. That is, we don't have to put our trust in nations we should not or cannot in the name of energy security.
The report projected the U.S. will pass Saudi Arabia in oil production to become the world's biggest producer in 2017, just five years from now.
Last year Saudi Arabia produced 11.1 million barrels per day, while the U.S. produced 10.1. In eight years, this will reverse: The U.S. will be pumping 11.1 million bpd to Saudi Arabia's 10.5.
The report even hints at the United States' ability to reach near self-sufficiency by 2035.
Even if this doesn't happen (and it seems like a stretch, considering our current reliance on OPEC, Canada, and Mexico for resources), we could at least get rid of some of these imports. And the best place to start is with OPEC.
The key to this, according to the IEA, is utilizing our own natural gas resources — like the Bakken, which continues to produce more oil and gas every month, and the Eagle Ford, which is right behind.
Indeed, America's shale boom is the secret to freedom from OPEC.
While those nations might continue to battle unrest, we don't have to.
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