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A worker on the drilling rig at a shale gas well drilling site in St. Mary's, Pa. (AP) A worker on the drilling rig at a shale gas well drilling site in St. Mary's, Pa. (AP)

A worker on the drilling rig at a shale gas well drilling site in St. Mary's, Pa. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher February 18, 2021

Do Biden’s executive orders have any effect on US energy independence?

If Your Time is short

  • In 2019, U.S. energy production exceeded U.S. energy consumption on an annual basis for the first time since 1957. That’s one definition of energy independence.

  • The U.S. continues to import millions of barrels of petroleum per day.

  • It’s impossible to say whether the executive orders President Joe Biden signed during his first days in office would reduce current production levels below U.S. consumption needs.

During his first eight days in office, President Joe Biden issued  executive orders that would curtail the production and transportation of oil, sparking a backlash from supporters of former President Donald Trump.

Musician Ted Nugent was among thousands of people on Facebook who shared an image that alluded to Trump’s tenure and indirectly attacked Biden. It stated:

"The United States was energy independent in 2019 for the first time since 1957. In just 10 days we are sent back 50 years." 

Nugent shared the post with an insult directed at Biden.

The image was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

We looked at both parts of the claim: whether the U.S. was energy independent in 2019, and whether Biden’s early executive orders changed that status. 

The claim relies on one common measure of energy independence: whether a country produces more energy than it consumes. By that measure, the U.S. achieved independence in 2019 for the full year, and stayed that way through last year. 

If consumption were ultimately to top production for the year again, that would take the U.S. back to where it was in 2018, not 1957, and not back 50 years.

But the government hasn’t published full-year data yet for 2020, or any results for 2021. So there’s no evidence yet that the U.S. situation changed since Biden took office.

As for two executive orders issued by Biden on energy, they don’t affect current U.S. production levels, and it’s unclear whether they’ll have a long-term effect on U.S. energy independence.

We checked a similar claim that Biden’s actions "ended energy independence for the United States" and found it speculative at best.

Production topped consumption in 2019

In 2019, U.S. energy production exceeded U.S. energy consumption on an annual basis for the first time since 1957, according to the Energy Information Administration. 

That includes petroleum and natural gas, which together accounted for 66% of total production in 2019, as well as coal, renewable energy and nuclear electric power. Production of crude oil and natural gas reached record highs in 2019, the federal agency said.

U.S. energy producers scaled back in 2020 in response to the pandemic. But consumption fell even faster amid the recession. So for the first 10 months of 2020, the latest period for which composite data are available, energy production still exceeded consumption.

The EIA says trends for this year will depend on the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and the speed of the U.S. economic recovery. In January, it forecast further declines in U.S. oil and natural gas in coming months as producers seek to prevent oversupplies that could hurt prices.

U.S. remains reliant on imports

Some experts prefer a stricter definition of energy independence: total disengagement from the global energy market, or zero imports. 

"By that standard, energy independence for the U.S. would be practically unattainable for the foreseeable future," said Stacey Morris, director of research at Alerian, which tracks energy and other investment markets.

In 2019, as production surged, the U.S. exported more energy than it imported, according to the Energy Information Administration, and remained a net energy exporter through the first 10 months of 2020. Previously, the U.S. had been a net energy importer since 1952

But the U.S. is still one of the world’s largest energy importers, according to the EIA. For example, it imported about 9.1 million barrels of petroleum per day in 2019 from about 90 countries. That’s the lowest level of total petroleum imports since 1996, but the U.S. still uses imports to help supply domestic and international markets, according to the EIA.

Regions such as the Pacific Northwest rely on imports from Canada year-round, and the U.S. still relies on imports from Canada in the winter to meet heating demand, said S&P Global Platts Analytics, an energy analytics firm.

Biden’s actions

Biden’s Jan. 20 executive order blocked construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and put a moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. 

The suspension of the Keystone XL, which would have helped carry Canadian oil to U.S. refineries on the Gulf coast, means the U.S. will seek more crude oil from areas such as the Middle East rather than Canada. But it doesn’t affect U.S. production, Morris said.

A decades-long push to drill for oil in the Alaskan refuge ended in January with a lease sale in which half of the offered leases drew no bids — evidence that oil companies had little interest in drilling there. No current production was affected. 

Biden’s Jan. 27 order paused new federal oil drilling leases on public lands or in offshore waters until a review on federal oil and gas leasing policy is done.

That order has no immediate effect on ongoing production either, and many producers have stockpiled permits in anticipation of regulations around activity on federal lands, Morris said. 

"Over a longer time horizon, a ban of new leases on federal lands or limiting permits could have negative implications for U.S. production and ultimately require oil imports to replace lost production, making the U.S. less energy independent," she said. 

"This has not happened at this point," she said. For it to happen "would probably require more from a policy standpoint than the current pause on leases."

Our ruling

An image widely shared on Facebook claimed: "The United States was energy independent in 2019 for the first time since 1957. In just 10 days we are sent back 50 years."

In 2019, U.S. energy production exceeded consumption on an annual basis for the first time since 1957. That’s one definition of energy independence. Through the first 10 months of 2020, the latest period for which data are available, energy production was down from a year earlier, but still exceeded consumption. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to import millions of barrels of petroleum per day.

The claim that Biden’s orders reversed the trend or the gains in U.S. energy independence is not supported. The government hasn’t published full-year data for 2020, or for the period since Biden took office. 

The orders didn’t stop any current production, and any new production from the avenues he closed off would have taken years to materialize. 

The image contains an element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Feb. 12, 2021

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump exaggerates US energy independence," Sept. 13, 2019

PolitiFact, "U.S. nears ‘energy independence’ Trump promised during 2016 campaign," July 15, 2020

PolitiFact, "Fact-checking Donald Trump's speech after Iran missile strikes on US troops," Jan. 8, 2020

PolitiFact, "Facebook post laments Biden’s first actions with false claims," Jan. 25, 2021

PolitiFact, "Hillary Clinton claim that US is energy independent goes too far," Oct. 11, 2016

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "U.S. energy facts explained — consumption and production," May 7, 2020

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "U.S. energy facts explained — imports and exports," April 20, 2020

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Monthly Energy Overview," (Table 1.1) January 2021

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Oil and petroleum products explained: Oil imports and exports," April 27, 2020

Email, U.S. Energy Information Administration press office, Feb. 16, 2021

Snopes, "Did Biden Set US ‘Back 50 Years’ on Energy Independence Progress?", Feb. 15, 2021

Alaska Public Media, "Arctic refuge lease sale goes bust, as major oil companies skip out," Jan. 6, 2021

New York Times, "Sale of Drilling Leases in Arctic Refuge Fails to Yield a Windfall," Jan. 6, 2021

Email, Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData, Feb. 16, 2021

Email, S&P Global Platts Analytics spokesperson Kathleen Tanzy, Feb. 16, 2021

Alerian, "Is US Energy Independence On Its Way?", July 2, 2019

Email, Stacey Morris, director of research at Alerian, Feb. 16, 2021

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