But wait. What happened to the energy crisis?
Rising tensions over Iran’s saber rattling show that it’s still with us. Oil still costs $100 a barrel or so, even more for the Brent quality crude sold in London, a more widely used benchmark. In inflation-adjusted terms, crude oil prices are higher than they have ever been with the exception of short spikes in late 1979 and mid-2008. Yes, the United States exports some refined petroleum products, but the United States is still an overall net importer of more than 9 million barrels of crude oil and refined products a day — about the same as the oil produced by the world’s largest exporter, Saudi Arabia.
Moreover, about 17 million barrels a day of oil still flow through the Strait of Hormuz, a potential choke point that Iran has threatened to close. The United States has retorted that its doctrine of protecting freedom of shipping through that Persian Gulf waterway remains unchanged. Why? Because those supplies account for a fifth of global oil consumption; no other spot remains as vital to world oil prices. A disruption there affects prices everywhere.
There are, to be sure, many reasons for energy experts to feel more sanguine about the U.S. energy future. Domestic oil production is up and on track to go up further because of a boom of drilling in shale rock. Natural gas supplies, thanks to hydraulic fracturing, seem limitless and natural gas prices have plunged to 10-year lows. A lot of jobs have been created, albeit not nearly as many as some oil industry studies claim.
U.S. oil consumption is also reaching a plateau and might start declining, in part because of more fuel-efficient vehicles, rising biofuel production and high future mileage standards set by the Obama administration.
But America’s dependence on foreign oil and gas sources has been reduced, not eliminated. The nation imports 15 percent less petroleum than in 2005 — in part because of the recession. But prices have soared; we cannot disentangle ourselves so easily from the global oil supply balance. As a result, in 2011, the United States paid a net of $326.5 billion for oil imports, accounting for 44 percent of the U.S. trade deficit. The crude oil import bill was the second highest ever, narrowly less than in 2008 and nearly twice as much as it was in 2005.
That drains money from the pockets of American consumers. AAA estimates, for example, that buying gasoline costs the average Virginia household $428 a month.
A year ago, President Obama set a goal of cutting oil imports by a third.