U.S. petroleum consumption showing no sign of steep drop
President Obama will be out of office long before the deadline arrives for his campaign promise to reduce oil consumption by 35 percent by 2030. The question is, how far have we moved toward that goal now that it's more than six years since he made his pledge.
The short answer: not far at all.
According to data from the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration, total petroleum consumption in the U.S. actually increased slightly from 2009 to 2014, the last year for which complete data are available. It went from 18.8 million barrels of oil per day to 19.0 million barrels daily. It had been as high as 20.8 million in 2005.
Similarly, the EIA is projecting that total petroleum energy consumption, which was 35.9 quadrillion British thermal units in 2013, will be up to 36.5 quadrillion Btus by 2030.
The numbers disguise the fact that oil is taking up a smaller proportion of the nation's total energy budget, because demand is increasing as population rises, and other energy sources are not coming online fast enough to crowd out oil and other petroleum products. So by 2030, it will account for 35.4 percent of energy consumed, down from 37 percent in 2013.
The administration has certainly been trying to bring consumption down, as we noted in our 2009 update below.
Although cap-and-trade legislation had no chance in Congress, the Obama administration tightened mileage requirements on light-duty vehicles, pushing the average to 35 miles per gallon. "That led to a huge decline in oil consumption," said Jessica Lubetsky, manager of the Pew Clean Energy Initiative. By 2025 those vehicles are supposed to be averaging 54 miles per gallon.
Tougher rules are expected this summer for moderate- and heavy-duty vehicles in hopes of further reducing consumption.
Net metering, the system for letting individual consumers feed home-grown energy into the power grid, is encouraging solar and wind projects. EIA says the number of net-metered customers has increased 70-fold since 2003.
Lubetsky said low oil prices are playing a key role in keeping consumption high. That means the United States isn't anywhere near achieving a 35 percent reduction.
"We've made progress toward this goal," White House spokesman Frank Benenati said in an email. "In part due to policies finalized under President Obama, such as increased fuel efficiency for cars and trucks, our projected oil consumption in 2030 is 17 percent lower than was projected seven years ago."
"Furthermore, we aren't finished yet," he said. "These projections do not include policies that have been proposed but not finalized, such as post-2018 fuel economy standards for heavy duty vehicles that we will finalize this year. The effect and magnitude of all of these policies will build over time."
But it's not clear it will be enough to fulfill Obama's promise. And since taking office, consumption has not declined and shows no signs of dropping at a time when demand for additional energy keeps rolling on. We rate this promise as Stalled.
U.S. Department of Energy, "Renewable Fuel Standard," June 4, 2014, accessed Jan. 11, 2016
U.S. Energy Information Administration, "International Energy Statistics," petroleum consumption category, "Annual Energy Outlook 2015," Figure 18, and "Energy consumption by sector and source," Table A2, April 2015, accessed Jan. 11-12, 2016
Interview, Jessica Lubetsky, manager, Pew Clean Energy Initiative, Jan. 12, 2016
Email, Frank Benenati, White House spokesman, Jan. 13, 2016
Pew Charitable Trusts, "The Impact of National Policy on Deployment of Clean and Efficient Energy Technologies," Oct. 26, 2015, and "3 Ways New Truck Efficiency Proposal Is Big Win for U.S.," June 22, 2015, both accessed Jan. 12, 2016
Forbes.com, "Rising U.S. Oil Demand in 2015 - and Beyond," June 21, 2015, accessed Jan. 12, 2016
New initiatives are meant to reduce oil consumption
President Barack Obama made some big campaign promises about energy consumption, and this was one of them.
Specifically, he pledged to reduce oil consumption by 35 percent in 2030.
So far, it's hard to quantify exactly how many barrels of oil Obama's nascent energy efficiency initiatives, alternative fuel programs and fuel efficiency standards have offset, but it's clear he has gotten the ball rolling on this promise.
Here are just a few examples:
- G-20 leaders have agreed to Obama's plan to phase out $300 billion in fossil fuel subsidies, including tax breaks and government assistance for coal and oil. The administration contends most of those subsidies go to foreign oil producers, so sending that money overseas impedes investment in energy sources, particularly renewable fuels, at home.
- On May 26, 2009, the administration announced it was increasing the Renewable Fuel Standard, an existing mandate that requires gasoline to be blended with ethanol or diesel with biodiesel, from 9 billion gallons of blended fuel to 36 billion gallons in by 2022.
- The stimulus package was chock-full of incentives for renewable energy production, including $2.5 billion for "applied research, development, demonstration and deployment activities" that alternative energy companies will be able to tap into.
- A cap-and-trade bill would require that new buildings be 30 percent more energy efficient in 2012 and 50 percent more efficient in 2016. Those standards will increase 5 percent every three years. That means that by 2030, new buildings will be 75 percent more efficient than they are today.
- The Transportation Department and the Environmental Protection Agency are in the process of drafting new rules that would increase fuel efficiency by an average of 5 percent a year. By 2016, cars and trucks will be 40 percent more efficient than today's vehicles, according to Obama's proposal .
Does this all add up to a 35 percent reduction in oil consumption? Not yet, but Obama is taking steps to fulfill this promise. For now, we rate it In the Works.
Environmental Protection Agency, Renewable Fuel Standard Program (RFS2): Notice of Proposed Rulemaking , accessed Oct. 11, 2009
Public Radio International, Fossil fuel subsidies and climate change , Sept. 28, 2009