The topic of U.S. energy independence often sparks debate, with many believing that the country achieved this status under President Trump and lost it during President Biden’s tenure.
I have addressed these beliefs previously using data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA). However, recent data from the EIA provides a clearer picture of the situation in 2022.
Before delving into the topic of energy independence, it’s important to establish a common definition. There are two ways to think about energy independence. One definition is that we produce more energy than we consume. Based on that definition, even if we import some energy, the fact that we produce more than enough to satisfy our needs would mean the U.S. is energy independent.
If we produce more than we need, why would we import energy? There are a couple of reasons.
One is that the type of energy we import (e.g., crude oil) is a better fit for our energy systems than the energy we produce ourselves. For example, U.S. refineries are well-suited to process heavy, sour crude oils. But the oil produced from the shale oil boom is primarily lighter and sweeter. Thus, U.S. oil producers can export this oil, while refiners can import the heavy, sour crude that they prefer.
The second reason is that we may simply import crude oil to process it and export the finished products. In that scenario, we aren’t importing oil because we need it, but rather because it is financially lucrative to do so.
This definition of energy independence — producing more than we consume — will be the definition I use here.
But another definition of energy independence is simply that we don’t import energy at all.
I don’t find this definition very useful, because we began importing crude oil before 1950, and we have imported it every year since. Under this definition, the U.S. hasn’t been energy independent in at least 75 years.
Thus, when someone says, “President Trump made us energy independent”, they are definitely not talking about this definition. During President Trump’s term, the U.S. imported an average of 9.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil and finished products per day.
However, if we consider the first definition, in 2019 the U.S. produced more energy than we consumed for the first time since at least the 1940s. It had been a steady march since 2005, when net U.S. energy imports hit a record high. But the shale boom unleashed huge amounts of domestic oil and gas, and by 2012 U.S. net imports had fallen to half the 2005 level.
By the time President Trump took office in 2017, U.S. net energy imports had fallen 75% from the 2005 level. In 2019, net energy imports turned negative, meaning the U.S. had become energy independent. So, while it is technically correct to say that the U.S. became energy independent while President Trump was in office, the reason was the shale boom that had begun in earnest in 2005.
Net U.S. exports grew from 0.61 quadrillion British thermal unit (Btus) — or “quads” — in 2019 to 3.48 quads in 2020. In 2021, President Biden’s first year in office, net exports increased slightly more to 3.62 quads.
Last month the EIA released data showing energy production and consumption numbers for all of 2022. You can see all the data here. In 2022, U.S. net energy exports grew to 5.94 quads, which is the highest number on record. Total U.S. energy production was also the highest on record. Overall, the U.S. produced 2.5% more energy in 2022 than we consumed. By comparison, in 2005 the U.S. consumed 44% more energy than we produced.
In conclusion, 2022 marked the highest level of US energy independence since before 1950. This milestone was achieved through a combination of factors, including the shale boom which led to a steady decline in net energy imports, rather than being solely attributed to any specific presidential administration.