The energy crisis continues to dominate the headlines in 2014, but this time with positive news: America’s energy outlook is improving — or it seems to be. The U.S. Department of Energy did a little number crunching earlier this year, and the results have prompted some observers to speculate that a domestic energy revolution is underway.
The Energy Department’s report revealed that U.S. energy production, particularly crude oil and natural gas supply, is again reaching historic levels in part because of recent technological breakthroughs. Among other improvements, the report also projected that U.S. reliance on foreign oil will diminish by 2016.
All that’s good news. But are the numbers enough to assert that America is on its way to domestic energy independence? In a global oil market, that simply may not be realistic or even favorable if we continue to rely on fossil fuels.
Energizing the Economy
Because the Energy Department’s predictions look especially promising, it appears as though energy independence is soon to become an American reality.
Crude oil production is approaching the record level that it did in 1970. If this trend continues, America’s dependence on foreign oil will shrink to 25 percent — compared with 37 percent in 2013 — in two years.
Natural gas also will replace coal as the leading supplier of electricity by 2040, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Natural gas production experienced rapid growth in 2013, thanks to the development of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” techniques in deriving the fossil fuel from the Marcellus Shale, its largest source in the United States. The Haynesville and Eagle Ford shales are two other actively drilled targets for natural gas.
But even with dramatic increases in energy abundance, some experts aren’t convinced that America is experiencing an energy revolution.
“In a narrow sense, we are witnessing increasing domestic oil and gas production, but this is not revolutionary,” said Christian Brannstrom, a professor of geography at Texas A&M University. “This is not a revolution because it does not alter our reliance — demand — for fossil fuels. A ‘revolution’ would be changes in demand for energy and changes in producing non-fossil fuels.”
Assistant Professor Shanjun Li of Cornell University’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management said it also would be difficult to achieve energy independence in the next 10 or 15 years.
“The importance of energy independence is argued primarily based on geopolitical and national security considerations, not from an economic perspective,” Li said. “We are in a global economy, and the oil market is a global market. Even if we don’t import oil directly from nations hostile to the U.S., export reduction in those countries will still affect U.S. consumers through the price mechanism.”
And although the affordability of natural gas will boost gas-dependent manufacturing and thereby create jobs in that sector, it also hurts the renewable energy sectors. Natural gas certainly is a favorable alternative to coal and nuclear energy, but the focus, some experts contend, should be on renewable energy production.
“If you have a product, in this case fossil energy, whose demand continues to be encouraged and whose supply continues to decrease, then the consumer is doomed to paying a higher price for energy as time goes on,” said Anthony R. Ingraffea, a professor of engineering at Cornell University. “If, on the other hand, you have a product called sunlight, wind and water, whose demand is not being increased fast enough but whose supply is free, then [in terms of] consumer prices, reliability of prices or less volatility in prices, the obvious solution is renewables.”
Ask the Experts
We asked a panel of experts in the fields of political science, geography, economics and environmental science to give their input on the growing discussion about a domestic energy revolution. You can check out their bios and their comments below.
- Are we in the midst of a domestic energy revolution?
- When will the U.S. become energy independent, and why is that important?