America’s Path to Energy Independence

Oil pump in front of American flag

Energy independence is one of the few things that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, but they disagree strongly on exactly what energy independence means and how to achieve it.

Generally, “energy independence” refers to a country’s ability to produce all of the energy it needs (or a surplus) by itself. During his State of the Union Address in February 2020, President Trump proudly announced that America is now energy independent. In some sense, we can say this is true because the U.S. exports more petroleum than it imports.

However, as critics are quick to point out, America is still importing petroleum. Some would argue that until we produce all of our energy domestically, we are not truly energy independent.

If we can produce more petroleum than we need, why are we still importing it from other countries? The situation is more complex than many people realize. There are several reasons the U.S. might continue to import petroleum, such as:

Cost

Producing oil is an expensive process that requires heavy equipment and highly trained personnel. In addition, oil production often occurs in remote areas. Labor costs in the United States are high, and importing oil is often a more cost-effective solution.

Logistics

How do we transport oil from its remote production sites to refineries, distribution centers, and customers? The most efficient way to transport oil is through a network of pipelines, but constructing them is another hotly contested political issue in America. The relative lack of pipeline distribution networks means imported oil may be cheaper than the oil we produce domestically.

Refinement

Have you ever thought about what happens between petroleum producers pumping oil out of the ground and you pumping gasoline into your car? Oil goes through a complex process of refining, purifying, and blending before it becomes usable fuel. It can be cheaper and more efficient to import a finished product from another country.

Petroleum Grades

Oil comes in a variety of grades and types that are suitable for different purposes. Just because America produces plenty of oil doesn’t mean it’s always the kind we need to make diesel, gasoline, or other fuels we depend on.

By some measures, the United States has already achieved energy independence. In another sense, we have a long way to go. Whether or not we ultimately achieve full energy independence, producing more energy domestically puts us in a powerful place to negotiate from when working out trade deals with other nations.

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