U.S. Energy: the New Reality

Chatham House / by John Mitchell

  • The trend of rising US dependence on imports of foreign oil and natural gas has been abruptly reversed, as a result of falling domestic demand for oil and increasing domestic supplies. This trend is likely to continue until at least 2020.
  • There are significant transitional challenges. The main sources of US shale gas and ‘tight’ oil are distant from existing infrastructure. The new oil mainly replaces light African and Atlantic crudes, rather than heavier Middle East oil for which refineries were designed.
  • Low natural gas prices have expanded the domestic gas market and enhanced the competitiveness of US industries.
  • US developments will create an economically sustainable surplus of natural gas. North American producers are competing to develop liquefied natural gas exports to Asia.
  • The aggregate of ‘energy self-sufficiency’ is superficial. While its crude oil imports from outside North America will diminish, the United States will continue to trade oil and gas with Canada and Mexico.
  • ‘Energy security’ is losing strength as a policy justification. The United States will, however, remain a substantial oil importer for at least a decade, and cannot be indifferent to the stability and security of global oil markets.

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