Grading Obama on Reducing U.S. “Dependency” on Middle East Oil

Energy Moves An Underreported Triumph by Any Objective Standard

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse August 27, 2015

By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedInFacebookTwitter @bfry1981) September 2nd, 2015

The following is excerpted from the upcoming part of my series grading the Obama Administration on its Middle East policies, see Part I and Part II 

AMMAN  Since the recent death of one Saudi king and the rise of another, the growing rift between Saudi Arabia and the United States was perhaps laid its most bare when the new King Salman snubbed Obama by withdrawing from a summit Obama was hosting at Camp David in the U.S.  As I have written before, Washington’s turn away from the Gulf has been underway for some time now, and it is not a bad thing. Perhaps a realignment towards Shiite Iran could also be a good thing, as it is Gulf Salafist/Wahaabist money that has done the most to fuel the rise of extremist Islamic terrorism in the form of first Sunni al-Qaeda and now the Sunni trifecta of Boko Haramal-Shabaab, and last (but certainly not least), ISIS (in contrast, Shiite-sponsored and perpetrated terrorism has often been far more targeted and limited). The easiest way for the U.S. to turn away from the religiously conservative and extreme regimes/populations of the Gulf is to buy less of their oil, which is exactly what has been happening the last few years under Obama.

In 2014, oil from the Middle East only accounted for about 20% of all of America’s oil imports, with a more than 13% drop in Middle Eastern oil imports from 2012 to 2014. Most of this oil came from Saudi Arabia, which provided 13% of America’s overall oil imports in 2014. By contrast, Canada alone accounted for 37% of all U.S. oil imports, nearly double the amount of imports from the Middle East as a whole and not quite three times the amount of oil brought in from Saudi Arabia. Mexico and Venezuela each account for 9% of oil imports and together almost match all the oil coming in from the Middle East. Thus, about four-fifths of oil being imported into the U.S. does not come from the Middle East, and Saudi Arabia is not even close to the level of the nation (Canada) from which the U.S. imports the most oil.  Additionally, there has been a general trend of increasing the amount of oil we import from our ally and neighbor, Canada, especially since Obama came into office.  At the same time, here has been a general trend of the U.S. importing less oil overall over the last decade, but particularly in the last few years under the Obama Administration. In fact, 2014 saw the lowest levels of importing oil since 1995 and the lowest levels of consumption of foreign oil since 1985.  While some of this trend is explained by the Great Recession, it also has to do with improving technology (with increased government funding from the Obama Administration partly behind its research and development) and tighterfederal government regulations in terms of fuel efficiency, including very specific policies of the Obama Administration that will roughly doubleAmerica’s standard for car fuel efficiency within ten years and is set to increase the current standard by more than 20% just next year. Also playing roles are consumer consciousness and behavior (e.g., an overall reduction in oil consumption that is fairly unique among developed nations and is expected to continue in the future and people generally choosing to purchase more fuel efficient cars, although this latter trend has decreased slightly with the recent huge drop in oil prices). Large increases in renewable biofuel production (an over 50% increase since Obama took office), consumption, and development (also partly due to government funding and mandates) tell part of the story, too; so does that fact that the U.S. under Obama is now using well over three times the amount of wind energy and close to five times the amount of solar energy from when he took office, in no small part because of the encouragementefforts, and funding of his Administration.

And, of course, there has been a tremendous increase in oil production under the Obama Administration: in 2014, the U.S. saw its single largest percent increase in oil production since records began being kept in the year 1900 and the largest increase in production since 1940 as the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Administration was preparing the country for potential wars with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. But the Obama oil boom has hardly been limited to just one year; rather, it has been a hallmark of his entire presidency.  The U.S. just recently became the biggest oil producer in the world in 2014, surpassing Saudi Arabia, and in 2015 even surpassed Saudi Arabia as the biggest crude oil producer in the world. The U.S. has also become the first country in world history to increase its production by a margin of an additional one million barrels per day for three straight years.

And whatever your thoughts on the controversial Keystone XL Pipelineproject, still under Obama’s consideration, if implemented, it would very likely further reduce Middle Eastern oil imports and increase the proportion of oil coming in from Canada.

Like oil, natural gas production in the U.S. is growing dramatically under Obama, too, greatly surpassing coal early in Obama’s presidency to become the most-produced source of energy in the U.S., and, along with renewable fuels, natural gas is becoming a significantly larger part of the energy sources Americans consume and this is at the expense of oil’s share of consumption. In fact, the U.S. has been the world’s largest producer of natural gas since 2010. As for imports of natural gas, there were sharp decreases in general, and net imports are at record lows, especially from the Middle East: under Obama, the U.S. completely stopped importing natural gas from Egypt in 2013 and from Qatar in 2014, and, after beginning to import from Yemen in 2010, has greatly reduced the amount of those imports, with Yemen being the only Middle Eastern country from which the U.S. imports natural gas at all and only a tiny fraction of its overall imports at that.

Grade: A+

We’ve been hearing for years that the U.S. is addicted to oil, especially Middle Eastern oil. Well, under Obama more than any other president since oil became a major commodity, America is dealing quite successfully with its addiction and has make strides across a wide range of public policies. This is not entirely because of Obama and his Administration, but a lot of it is and he has been exceptionally strong at doing virtually every big thing necessary to wean America off oil from the Middle East, from importing less oil from the Middle East, to heartily driving up U.S. oil production, to pursuing alternative energy like natural gas and biofuels, to supporting research for improved fuel efficiency, and to pushing the U.S. hard on fuel efficiency by dramatically increasing fuel efficiency standards set by the government, it is hard to find anything lacking in Obama’s approach to the long-and-often-discussed dream of “energy independence,” especially from dubious Middle Eastern regimes. Well, that dream is a reality now based on nearly all the relevant numbers and trends and very clearly so, in large part thanks to President Barack Obama and his Administration.

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