After years of relying on other countries for petroleum, the United States just reached a new energy-producing milestone by notching its first month in at least 70 years exporting more crude oil and petroleum products than it imported per day.
During the month of September, the country sent out 89,000 barrels a day more than it brought in, according to new official data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration released over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
That marks the first full month the United States as been a net petroleum exporter since recordkeeping began in 1949. The country, which for years has been on the path to becoming a net oil exporter, first posted net petroleum exports on a weekly basis in December 2018.
The monthly milestone, fueled by an outpouring of fracked oil, was unthinkable just more than a decade ago when president after president from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama spent their State of the Union addresses hammering home the need to wean the United States off of dependence on foreign oil.
“This is a very big deal, not just rich in symbolism but marking a major and tangible benefit to the U.S. economy,” said Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of IHS Markit and author of “The Prize,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the oil industry.
“It’s the end of an era that began with the oil crises of the 1970s,” he added, referring to the days of long lines at gas stations when Middle Eastern nations would wield their vast supplies of oil as a political weapon on the world stage.
President Trump, too, has touted making America a net energy producer as a signature campaign issue. In office, he has followed through by aggressively expanding drilling on federally controlled lands and trimming back safety rules on offshore oil operations in moves cheered by the petroleum industry and condemned by environmentalists.
“We have unleashed a revolution in American energy,” Trump said during his most recent State of the Union speech while touting the oil export numbers.
But the decade-long surge in domestic oil production began before Trump took office with a spigot of new oil produced via the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, of shale deposits in the Permian Basin stretching from Texas to New Mexico and the Bakken formation running from North Dakota to Montana.
“Shale completely turned it around,” Yergin said. “The world has never seen growth at this scale this fast. It’s almost as though, in number of barrels, that the United States added a second Saudi Arabia within its own borders.”
The height of U.S. oil imports came in August 2006, when the United States posted net imports of more than 13 million barrels a day, according to EIA.
Since then, new fracking techniques, coupled with the lifting of a ban on oil exports in 2015 through a compromise between Obama and congressional Republicans, helped vault the United States to its oil-exporting status.
“The rapid rise in U.S. oil production began before President Trump and would very likely have continued even if he had not become president, notwithstanding his aggressive deregulatory efforts,” said Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.
Through its petroleum exports, the United States has been able to take a bite out of its trade deficit with the rest of the world — another Trump campaign promise — even though the overall U.S. deficit ballooned to $621 billion last year under Trump.
To be clear, the United States is still far from free of the sway of global energy markets.
Gulf refineries still rely on the import of foreign heavy crude since they are best suited for converting that type of oil into gasoline, jet fuel and petroleum products.
And one of the average American’s main concerns when it comes to energy policy — the price at the pump — is still set by supply-and-demand forces abroad.
In fact, a spike in the historically volatile price of crude oil may undermine the economics of producing oil from U.S. shale formations in the first place.
"Shale oil is more sensitive to crude prices than conventional oil production," said Robert McNally, head of the Rapidan Group, an energy consulting firm, who worked in the George W. Bush White House. "While the economic and security benefits are large and real, being a net exporter does not confer the ability to stabilize oil prices."
Still, the country’s newfound status as a fledgling oil exporter has turned many past choices on energy policy on their heads.
The controversial Keystone XL pipeline system, for example, was initially justified as a way of getting U.S. consumers fuel derived from Canadian crude — the idea being that it’s better to get foreign oil from a friendly neighbor like Canada rather than a more hostile nation. But now, with the United States producing so much of its own oil domestically, an increasing amount of the fuel produced by the Gulf Coast refineries that process the crude brought in through the Keystone system is destined to be sold abroad.
There’s something else poised to potentially turn the import-export equation upside down: the 2020 presidential election.
Two of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), have called for bans on fracking and exporting U.S. fossil fuels. They and their supporters are concerned the flood of U.S. oil on the world market is only accelerating runaway climate change that threatens to upend ecosystems worldwide.
The two other top candidates, according to recent polls — former vice president Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg — have instead taken more moderate positions, calling for better regulations on fracking rather than eliminating the practice altogether.
— Perry successor sails to confirmation: The Senate easily confirmed Dan Brouillette to become the next energy secretary, replacing Rick Perry who officially left his post on Sunday. The chamber voted 70 to 15 to confirm the former lobbyist, with the help of numerous Democrats including Sen. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
- The latest ex-lobbyist in Trump's Cabinet: Brouillette has worked as a top lobbyist for the Ford Motor Co. and as the head of public policy for USAA, a financial institution for military families, in addition to holding a post at the Energy Department in the George W. Bush administration. Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt are also former lobbyists.
- What lawmakers said: Manchin said on the Senate floor that Brouillette was “up to this enormous task. He’s a good man. He has the credentials.” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he is looking forward to working with Brouillette. Meanwhile, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who voted against the nomination, said he had “failed to provide substantive answers to key questions about Mr. Perry’s dealings” in Ukraine amid the House impeachment inquiry.
— The U.N. climate conference kicks off in Madrid: There, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres opened the summit, known as COP25, with a call for hope as the world continues to try to tackle climate change. “Do we really want to be remembered as the generation that buried its head in the sand, that fiddled while the planet burned?” Guterres said. The climate conference, which will take place over two weeks, is meant to push world leaders to bolster their commitments to the goals of the 2015 Paris accord.
- Pelosi tries to reassure nations at the conference: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who led a delegation of 14 other congressional Democrats to the conference, said at a news conference there that U.S. lawmakers still aim to join the world’s efforts to tackle global warming despite the Trump administration’s opposition. “By coming here we want to say to everyone we are still in, the United States is still in,” she said. “... Our delegation is here to send a message that Congress’s commitment to take action on the climate crisis is ironclad.”
— North Dakota company lands border wall contracts: Fisher Sand and Gravel Co., a company Trump urged military officials to hire for border wall construction, has been granted a $400 million contract to build part of the barrier across the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Yuma County, Ariz., The Post’s Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report.
- Some details: Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who “has argued that the company could build the wall faster than any of the current Army Corps contractors,” said in a statement that the company plans to build 31 miles of new barrier. The target date for completion is Dec. 30, 2020.
- But: “The company’s construction plan has not been approved by the International Boundary Water Commission, which regulates construction in the Rio Grande flood plain, but Fisher and We Build the Wall have won praise from senior U.S. Border Patrol officials,” Miroff and Dawsey write.
— Trump will restore steel and aluminum tariffs on a pair of countries: The president tweeted that he will reimpose tariffs on those products imported from Brazil and Argentina, expanding the targets of the administration’s trade tactics. “Brazilian steel exports to the U.S. accounted for roughly $2.6 billion last year — making the United States one of Brazil’s biggest markets for steel — and analysts expected the tariffs to be painful,” The Post’s Rachel Siegel, Terrence McCoy and David Nakamura report. “In Argentina, where steel and aluminum exports represent roughly $700 million, the unexpected news comes as the nation is undergoing a transition of power. If the tariffs persist, they will be one of the earliest diplomatic tests to face the incoming presidency of Alberto Fernández, a leftist politician who will take office within a week.”
— Trump’s pick to lead NOAA is out: The White House has officially withdrawn the nomination of Barry Myers to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Myers had requested to pull his name from consideration because of health concerns, as The Post’s Andrew Freedman and Jason Samenow reported last month.
— Massive waterfalls forming from cracks in Greenland ice sheet: In July 2018, a lake of glacial meltwater briefly became one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, an incident prompted by cracks in the ice sheet. The water there “cascaded more than 3,200 feet to the underbelly of the glacier, where the ice meets bedrock. There, the water can help lubricate the base of the ice sheet, helping the ice move faster toward the sea,” The Post’s Andrew Freedman reports. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists may indicate that scientists are underestimating the how much melt ponds drain into the ice sheet.
- Why it matters: “The observations of scientists, armed with aerial drones and other high-tech equipment, of the partial lake drainage that resulted could help researchers better understand how surface melting of the ice sheet could affect its melt rate, and improve global sea level rise projections.”
— A pair of utilities exit from pro-coal trade group: American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co., two of the nation’s top coal burners, won’t re-up their membership in the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity next year, E&E News reports.
- Why it matters: “AEP and Southern's membership in ACCCE emerged as an important test of their climate commitment against that backdrop,” per the report. The trade group, a coalition of mining companies, railroads and power companies that push coal use, has “emerged as a particularly powerful player during the Trump administration” and has supported the administration’s “rollback of emission standards for carbon, limits on wastewater pollution and rules meant to improve the safety of coal ash disposal.”
— Oil giant bumps lawsuit to federal court: ExxonMobil has moved a climate lawsuit that was filed against the company by the Massachusetts attorney general from state jurisdiction to federal court.
- Why the move is good for Exxon: The federal court system is seen as more favorable for oil companies when it comes to claims related to climate change. The company had argued that State Attorney General Maura Healey “was using state-level law enforcement authority as a pretext to advance a political agenda,” Bloomberg News reports.
Photo Essay: 2C: Beyond the limit. If the Earth’s average temperature increases 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2100, humankind will see catastrophic changes. @vanhoutenphoto @mrchavezphoto @salwangeorges @bonjomo @AnnGerhart https://t.co/VopbX7MBMh pic.twitter.com/amZKfrJd8t— Washington Post Photo (@WashPostPhoto) December 2, 2019
— A portrait of a rapidly warming world: Post photographers were dispatched to locations around the world to witness the reality of climate change. Four of them share in this photo essay what they saw in Alaska, Minnesota, Colorado, Qatar, Siberia, Australia and Angola.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee on clean air and nuclear safety holds a hearing to examine the nomination of Robert J. Feitel, of Maryland, to be Inspector General of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds hearings to examine an original bill to create a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chronic Wasting Disease Task Force on Wednesday.
- The House Natural Resources subcommittee on national Parks, forests, and public lands holds a legislative hearing on Wednesday.
— A tiny puppy frozen in time: Researchers are trying to figure out whether a tiny canine preserved for 18,000 years in permafrost is a dog or a wolf, but the ice preserved the creature in near-perfect condition, The Post’s Hannah Knowles and Kayla Epstein write. “This puppy has all its limbs, pelage — fur, even whiskers. The nose is visible. There are teeth. We can determine due to some data that it is a male,” said Nikolai Androsov, director of the Northern World museum.