WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first month in nearly two decades,
the U.S. extracted more oil from the ground than it imported from abroad in
October, marking an important milestone for a nation seeking to wean itself off
The shift could foreshadow future opportunities to increase
jobs in the U.S., lower the trade deficit and insulate the economy from foreign
crises that can send oil prices rising.
But it also speaks to deeper, underlying changes in the way
Americans use oil, as price-conscious consumers seek to limit what they pay. The
resulting decline in consumption has meant the U.S. must buy less oil from the
Middle East and elsewhere to meet its needs.
Not since 1995 has the U.S produced more crude oil than it
imported. For several years now, domestic production has been on the rise, while
net imports have been declining.
But data released by the Energy Information Administration,
the statistical wing of the Energy Department, showed that the trend lines have
finally crossed, with crude oil production topping 7.7 million barrels per day.
Obama administration officials said President Barack Obama’s
efforts to boost fuel efficiency for cars have helped to reduce U.S. demand for
gas and, in turn, lessen the need to import foreign oil.
Officials said requiring auto companies to make cars that
run on less gas has gone a long way toward realizing Obama’s goal of curbing
global warming. They also credited the president with promoting drilling on
federal lands and offshore as part of his strategy to encourage more U.S. energy
“Taken together, these factors not only reduce our
dependence on foreign oil, but work to reduce overall carbon pollution in our
communities,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.
But on the production side, energy experts and the oil
industry said the higher volumes of oil coming out of the ground come despite
Obama’s policies, not because of them. They said Obama has made it harder, not
easier, to produce oil on government land.
The U.S. still exports far less oil to other countries than
“It’s a very positive sign — enormously positive,” said
Philip Verleger, an independent U.S. energy analyst. “But energy policy has not
been a help, it’s been a hindrance.”
Although domestic oil production has been growing since
Obama took office, most of the expanded production has been on private and state
lands that the federal government doesn’t control.
Oil analysts said high oil prices have made it lucrative for
oil companies to invest in new wells, even as easy-to-drill areas become scarce
and companies must resort to more expensive technologies to unearth oil in North
Dakota and in deep-water wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
The October figures will be revised in the coming months as
more final data becomes available. But based on the size of the gap between net
imports and production — 170,000 barrels per day — administration officials said
they were confident the trend will hold true.
Oil industry advocates said they hoped the shift would
encourage the administration to do more to increase production on federal lands,
now that the vision of a U.S. that can rely more heavily on its own energy
resources is coming into view.
“For most of our history, it’s been scarcity,” said John
Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute. “It’s completely
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