Expanded Oil Drilling Helps U.S.Wean Itself From Mideast
America will halve its reliance on Middle East oil by the end of this decade and could end it completely by 2035 due to declining demand and the rapid growth of new petroleum sources in the Western Hemisphere, energy analysts now anticipate.
The shift, a result of technological advances that are unlocking new sources of oil in shale-rock formations, oil sands and deep beneath the ocean floor, carries profound consequences for the U.S. economy and energy security. A good portion of this surprising bounty comes from the widespread use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique perfected during the last decade in U.S. fields previously deemed not worth tampering with.
By 2020, nearly half of the crude oil America consumes will be produced at home, while 82% will come from this side of the Atlantic, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. By 2035, oil shipments from the Middle East to North America "could almost be nonexistent," the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently predicted, partly because more efficient car engines and a growing supply of renewable fuel will help curb demand.
[T]he U.S. military will keep guarding the region's oil shipping lanes, as it has done for decades. "Nobody else can protect it and if it were no longer available, U.S. oil prices would go up," said Michael O'Hanlon, a national security expert with the Brookings Institution, who says the U.S. spends $50 billion a year protecting oil shipments. But China, a growing consumer of Middle Eastern crude, is seeking a larger presence in the region, with its navy joining antipiracy efforts near Somalia.
The shift away from Middle Eastern oil means closer ties with Canada, which is emerging as the top U.S. energy ally, but also with Latin neighbors that are strong trading partners. A dollar spent buying oil from these countries is more likely to end up back in the U.S. than a dollar spent buying Iraqi or Saudi crude. Economies buoyed by petrodollars also lessen the appeal of northward migration for Latin America's poor, says Jeremy Martin, director of the energy program at the Institute of the Americas in La Jolla, Calif.
The American energy revolution also is making a splash across the Atlantic. Countries in Eastern Europe, long dependent on Russia for their energy, are seeking to tap their own shale resources with the help of U.S. companies.
The prospect that new sources of supply in the Americas could lead to years of flat or even falling oil prices is a source of great concern in the Kremlin. Surging oil revenues over his 12 years in power have helped President Vladimir Putin pay for an eightfold increase in government spending, going to everything from pension and wage hikes to costly projects like the Sochi Olympics to a major military buildup. Now, his government is scrambling to find ways to tighten its belt as oil prices—and thus tax revenues—slide. Finding a new driver for Russia's economy is "a colossal challenge," said economy minister Andrei Belousov.