At the start of World War II, the United States was producing over 60 percent of the world’s oil. Japan and Germany depended on oil imports from the U.S. for their militaries and economies, and America’s ability to supply its allies with oil and limit Japanese and Germans access to the fuel was critical to victory in the war. That was energy dominance.
Jump ahead 30 years to the early 1970s. The U.S. was still the world’s largest oil producer, but its output was declining and the U.S. was no longer an oil supplier to the world. Its petroleum imports were rising. U.S. energy dominance was history, and the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973/74 was a massive shock to the U.S. psyche and economy. Energy dominance had become energy weakness.
All American presidents from that point forward pledged allegiance to “Energy Independence” and eliminating U.S. dependence on energy imports from unstable regions of the world like the Middle East. Various programs were enacted over the years to reduce oil demand and increase production, including that of alternative fuels. However, domestic oil production continued to decline and petroleum imports to rise through the middle of the first decade of the 2000s. Meanwhile U.S. natural gas imports were also rising strongly and large liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals were being constructed along the coasts to import LNG from Qatar and other gas exporters. The U.S. energy security situation seemed dire and our growing import dependence fed a narrative of an America in decline. In 2005, the U.S. imported more than 30 percent of its total energy needs, the highest amount ever. Energy weakness had transformed into near impotence.
Technology breakthroughs in oil and gas production, especially hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling, changed that trajectory. Beginning just over ten years ago, production of natural gas from shale formations in Texas, Pennsylvania and elsewhere began to surge, followed a few years later by sharp increases in petroleum supply from tight oil deposits in North Dakota and Texas. Combined with restrained demand from efficiency measures and tougher vehicle fuel use standards, U.S. energy imports declined and some dared hope that the holy grail of energy independence might be attained.