While green energy is making inroads particularly at the electrical grid, the majority of energy in the United States is still consumed by the industrial and transportation sectors. Today, it’s still true that about 90% of all energy used for transportation comes from petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel.
This means that oil is the undeniable 800-pound gorilla in the energy mix for now, and that’s why it still accounts for 35% of all energy consumed in the United States.
Throughout the last 50 years, America’s heavy dependence on oil has always created unique political and economic pressures, especially when that oil couldn’t be produced domestically. As we witnessed in the 1970s, untimely oil price shocks can rattle an entire economy, and control over oil production ultimately translated into leverage for foreign organizations like OPEC, and countries such as Venezuela, Iran, or Saudi Arabia.
Oil independence is something that almost all U.S. politicians can get behind. It means more domestic job growth, and diminishing influence for foreign oil producers. Propelled by technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling, the U.S. has been edging towards this goal. Since 2008, U.S. crude oil production has grown from five million to near nine million barrels per day. Now, the U.S. is again the world’s biggest producer.
However, as today’s animated graphic from HowMuch.net shows us, there is another significant change that has occurred recently, and it has more to do with where the remaining foreign oil comes from. In particular, oil imports are shifting from the sands of Saudi Arabia to the oilsands of Canada.
The below image shows how U.S. oil imports coming from Saudi Arabia and the Middle East have dropped drastically over the last 15 years:
Compare that to Canada, which now exports a whopping 1.37 billion barrels of oil to the U.S. each year.
If this trend continues, it could have big implications on foreign policy.
Can the United States continue to wean off its dependence on the Middle East? If so, Saudi Arabia’s role as a necessary “friend” in the region may dissipate over time, completely changing the composition of Middle Eastern geopolitics.
It also raises interesting questions from environmental and economic perspectives about Canadian oil, which mostly comes from the Athabasca Oilsands.
Bitumen is particularly expensive to produce, and the extra heavy oil already sells at a discount in American markets. With oil now hovering close to $40 per barrel, what does the future of Canadian oil look like ten years down the line? Further, will concerns over emissions and pollution stemming from the oilsands have any effect on production capabilities as time goes on?
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