Fossil Fuel Reserves
The United States’ reliance on fossil fuels has enabled the industrial revolution, but also created complex issues around geopolitics and environmental concerns (Council on Foreign Relations 2021). In the late 1900s, the reserves were in steady decline until directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing led to massive increases in proved reserves and extraction (EIA 2021). These increases have led to the U.S. to have the world’s largest recoverable oil reserve base (Nysveen 2016). However, the U.S. continues to be a net importer of petroleum products leaving it at risk from geopolitical issues (EIA 2021).
Bridging the Gap
The U.S. is currently working on transitioning to renewable energy sources to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. However, the build-out of an entirely renewable energy system will take decades. Around 18 million barrels per day of petroleum products were consumed in 2020, and with total proven reserves at 44 million, there would only be around 7 years of oil left available (EIA 2021). In 2019 the U.S. consumed 31 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas and with proven reserves of 495 Tcf this leads to around 16 years left of natural gas in proven reserves (EIA 2021). If the U.S. were to utilize these resources to bridge the gap until alternative resources were implemented, there would likely only be around one decade of energy available where the United States would be independent from foreign oil imports.
Getting Reserves to Market
For these reserves to be able to supply all the domestic demand, a variety of efforts would have to take place. Drilling moratoriums have halted exploration and extraction of many areas with proven reserves. The Biden administration has recently cancelled any oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June as well, further limiting the ability to get reserves to market (Brown 2021). Much of the U.S. oil refining capacity has been developed towards heavy crude oil, however, much of the domestic oil generated is light crude oil (Foreman 2018). This leads to a situation where excess domestic light crude oil is sold to external markets while heavier crude oil is imported. To fully implement the current reserves, the U.S. should be looking to remove limitations on drilling access, incentivize refinery conversions, and place tariffs on global imports to help drive the market towards utilizing local resources first as the country works on shifting to renewable energy resources.
Energy Independence Implementation
While energy independence through increasing domestic fossil fuel extraction would reduce geopolitical issues, it would lead to further environmental issues. Further investment into hydrocarbon resources will create stranded assets, carbon entanglement, and increased carbon pollution that will generate more fossil fuel infrastructure lock in and more reliance on foreign fuel as these assets live longer than the domestic supply can provide (Erickson, Lazarus and Tempest 2015). The current infrastructure should be utilized while additional renewable resources are being deployed with fossil fuel assets being replaced solely by renewable resources at retirement to ensure energy independence in the long term, not just the next decade.
Author: Logan Callen
Brown, Matthew. 2021. US Ends Oil, Gas Lease Sales From Public Land Through June. Accessed April 21, 2021. https://www.todayville.com/calgary/us-ends-oil-gas-lease-sales-from-public-land-through-june/.
Council on Foreign Relations. 2021. Oil Dependence and U.S. Foreign Policy. Accessed April 25, 2021. https://www.cfr.org/timeline/oil-dependence-and-us-foreign-policy.
EIA. 2021. EIA Forecasts the U.S. Will Import More Petroleum Than It Exports in 2021 and 2022. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=46776.
—. 2021. U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2019. Accessed April 25, 2021. https://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/crudeoilreserves/.
Erickson, Peter, Michael Lazarus, and Kevin Tempest. 2015. Carbon Lock-in From Fossil Fuel Supply Infrastructure. Accessed April 21, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep02768.
Foreman, Dean. 2018. Why the U.S. Must Import and Export Oil. Accessed April 20, 2021. https://www.api.org/news-policy-and-issues/blog/2018/06/14/why-the-us-must-import-and-export-oil.
Nysveen, Per Magnus. 2016. Reserve Estimates. Accessed April 25, 2021. https://www.aogr.com/web-exclusives/exclusive-story/u.s.-holds-most-recoverable-oil-reserves.