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Sophie Austin
By Sophie Austin July 15, 2020
Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy July 15, 2020

U.S. nears ‘energy independence’ Trump promised during 2016 campaign

The U.S. hasn't achieved the "complete American energy independence" that President Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail in 2016, but the country is moving toward it.

"Under my presidency, we will accomplish a complete American energy independence," Trump, then a candidate for president, said during a May 2016 speech. "Complete. Complete."

Trump has since tried to declare victory on that promise, claiming prematurely that the U.S. had become "very energy independent" as of September 2019. We rated that claim Half True.

The bottom line now is the same as it was then: The U.S isn't energy independent yet.

One definition of energy independence says it occurs when domestic production outpaces domestic consumption. For the U.S., the gap between production and consumption has been narrowing for some time, and the two figures have been running neck and neck.

Some experts prefer another sense of the phrase, which defines energy independence as total disengagement from the global energy market, or zero imports. By that definition, the U.S. is even farther from achieving energy independence. 

Production versus consumption

In the first two months of 2020, the U.S. used more energy than it produced, according to the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration

That flipped in March, when the U.S. consumed roughly 7.8 quadrillion British thermal units of energy and produced roughly 8.5 quadrillion Btu. (A Btu is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.)

In February, the country consumed about 8.3 quadrillion Btu and produced about 8.1 quadrillion Btu. The U.S. consumed about 9 quadrillion Btu and produced 8.8 quadrillion Btu in January.

In 2019, as was the case in March, the U.S. produced slightly more energy than it consumed. Specifically, Americans used about 100.2 quadrillion Btu of energy and produced about 101 quadrillion Btu. Broken down by month, there were seven months in 2019 where energy production outpaced energy consumption.

That was a change from 2018, when the U.S. consumed about 5.5 quadrillion Btu more than it produced, and only two months saw production exceed consumption.

A large, rising share of the energy the U.S. produces comes from fossil fuels. In 2019, 80.1% of its energy production came from fossil fuels. That was followed by renewable energy at 11.5% and nuclear electric power at 8.4%.

In 2017, 2018 and 2019, fossil fuels' share of U.S. energy production was 77.7%, 79.1% and 80.1%, respectively.

Severin Borenstein, the faculty director of the Energy Institute at the University of California, Berkeley's business school, said in an email that producing more energy than it consumes doesn't make the U.S. "energy independent in any economic sense."

"The price of oil and gasoline in the United States is driven by the world oil market, and that continues to be true even as we produce a larger and larger share of the oil we consume," he said.

Chasing zero imports?

2019 also saw the U.S. export more energy than it imported, by a difference of about 715 trillion Btu, according to the EIA. That trend continued in the first three months of 2020.

Previously, the U.S. had been a net energy importer since 1953. But the EIA projected in January that the U.S. would remain a net energy exporter in 2020 and through 2050.

"The U.S. has become a smaller and smaller net importer of energy over the last decade and that trend has continued under Trump," Borenstein said, adding that Trump has opened more land to oil and gas production, but that hydraulic fracturing has largely driven the trend.

It's unclear how much the coronavirus pandemic, which has contributed to dropping oil prices, will affect these trends. 

"The crash of the oil market made much of U.S. production uneconomic, much more so than production from the Middle East, which is much lower-cost," Borenstein said. "But those are probably short-run trends."

When we last updated this promise, experts said it would neither be viable nor desirable for the U.S. to meet the other definition of energy independence and cut off all imports. The U.S. remains plugged into the global energy market.

Overall, the U.S. is close to regularly producing more energy than it consumes and exporting more energy than it imports. But it hasn't settled into complete energy independence in that way yet. The higher consumption in January and February is a case in point.

We rate this promise a Compromise.

Our Sources

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Monthly Energy Review,", May 2020

U.S. Energy Information Administration, "Annual Energy Outlook 2020," January 2020

The Washington Post, "No, President Trump, the U.S. isn't energy-independent. Middle East oil still matters.," Jan. 10, 2020

PolitiFact, "How the coronavirus shook the stock market, explained," March 10, 2020

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

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

PolitiFact, "Trump sets United States on course towards energy independence," Dec. 8, 2017

Email interview with Severin Borenstein, professor of economic analysis and policy and faculty director of the Energy Institute at Haas at the University of California, Berkeley, June 24, 2020

Manuela Tobias
By Manuela Tobias December 8, 2017

Trump sets United States on course towards energy independence

President Donald Trump promised to achieve energy independence during the campaign, but the hazy definition of independence and the long timeline of energy policies make it a hard promise to keep.

"Under my presidency, we will accomplish a complete American energy independence. Complete. Complete," Trump said in a speech in May 2016, during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D.

"Imagine a world in which our foes and the oil cartels can no longer use energy as a weapon," Trump continued. "Wouldn't that be nice?"

Almost a year into his administration, we decided to check in. How close are we to achieving energy independence?

The White House did not define energy independence when we asked. So we'll go with the generally agreed upon definition: producing as much energy as is consumed domestically.

That's not the case just yet.

In the first eight months of 2017, the United States produced 57.8 quadrillion BTUs of energy and used 64.9 quadrillion BTUs, according to the Energy Information Administration, an office of the federal government. The United States imported 11.3 quadrillion BTUs more of energy than it exported in 2016.

Oil is mostly responsible for the imbalance, as the United States already produces as much as it consumes in coal, natural gas and electricity generation.

Experts predict the United States will become a net exporter of oil in the next five to 10 years. That could be expedited with high oil prices -- or pushed to after 2040 with low ones, according to the EIA.

The steadily shrinking gap can be traced back to the boom in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the late 2000s.

Which brings us to the most significant point: Price, alongside market signals and technology, are the principal drivers toward energy independence, not the government.

Trump has touted notable regulatory rollbacks for the energy industry. Those include:

  • Auctioning off 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling in March;

  • Directing the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind the Clean Power Plan;

  • Ordering the Treasury Department to "eliminate barriers to the financing of highly efficient overseas coal energy plants"; and,

  • Approving the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

What isn't clear is whether those steps will have much of an effect on Trump's promise. Certainly not one that is visible yet -- and won't be for at least five to 10 years, experts told us.

"What happens in the first year is completely irrelevant of what the president has done because when you talk about energy, you talk about multi-decadal pathways," said Ken Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.

Opening up areas for oil and gas exploration and development, for example, requires a multi-year planning process, lease sales, and most importantly, large investments by companies. In order to drill, companies must find these expensive ventures more profitable than existing opportunities, like onshore horizontal drilling and fracking.

The Keystone XL pipeline, on the other hand, has not yet been built, and with alternative albeit less efficient transport options, experts pointed out that it wouldn't necessarily impact whether the energy resources are developed.

"At the heart of it, the Trump administration's regulatory fixes will make it somewhat easier in the long run to produce oil and natural gas," said Emma Ashford, a research fellow at the Cato Institute. "But in reality, we're already living in a supply glut, so there's not much of an incentive for increased production, particularly in hard to drill areas."

How practical is independence?

Even if the United States were to balance exports and imports, it is a long ways away from total disengagement from the global market (or zero imports), which most experts defined as true energy independence. That, experts said, is neither viable nor desirable.

"There are political and foreign policy reasons the U.S. presence conveys value," Medlock said. "That's not going to change."

"The rhetoric and the language surrounding the notion of energy independence suggests that it is desirable to disconnect from the global economy and become self-sufficient," said Richard Newell, president of Resources for the Future and former EIA administrator under President Barack Obama. "But it is not in the United States' interest to produce exactly all the energy we consume."

The United States has comparative advantages in producing certain energy sources, like light oil, while other countries are better at producing other sources, like heavy crudes, which means that staying integrated in the global trading scheme lowers prices for American consumers at the pumps -- and creates business for American oil refiners.

Whether turning the United States into a net energy exporter or cutting off imports completely, the government takes a back seat to market forces. And it will likely take years before the export-import balance sees the subtle fruit of Trump's labor. But that doesn't take away from his considerable efforts to facilitate fossil fuel extraction, production and exports.

We rate this promise In the Works.

Our Sources

Email interview with Steven Cheung, White House spokesman, Dec. 6, 2017

White House, Remarks by President Trump at the Unleashing American Energy Event, June 29, 2017, Monthly energy review, Nov. 21, 2017

PolitiFact, Hillary Clinton claim that US is energy independent goes too far, Oct. 11, 2017

Email interview with Michelle Foss, energy economist at the University of Texas, Austin, Dec. 6, 2017

Phone interview with Severin Borenstein, business and public policy professor at University of California, Berkeley, Dec. 6, 2017

Phone interview with Kenneth Medlock, senior director of Center for Energy Studies at Rice University, Dec. 6, 2017

Email interview with Jonathan Cogan, Energy Information Administration spokesman, Dec. 7, 2017

Email interview with Erik Kreil, international energy markets expert at Energy Information Administration, Dec. 7, 2017

Phone interview with Emma Ashford, energy politics research fellow at the Cato Institute Dec. 7, 2017

Phone interview with Richard Newell, president of Resources for the Future and former EIA administrator from 2009 to 2011, Dec. 7, 2017

Washington Post, Trump to auction off a vast swath of the Gulf of Mexico to oil companies, Oct. 24, 2017

Allison Graves
By Allison Graves January 16, 2017

Achieve energy independence

Donald Trump's energy strategy as president is stacked full of promises aimed at achieving one goal: energy independence.

All of the details of Trump's promises are included in his "An America First Energy Plan," which includes rolling back environmental regulations and increasing drilling on federal land.

"Under my presidency, we will accomplish a complete American energy independence. Complete. Complete," Trump said in a speech in May 2016, during the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D.

He continued: "Imagine a world in which our foes and the oil cartels can no longer use energy as a weapon. Wouldn't that be nice?"

The United States is closer to independence than dependence, and getting closer every year, but, it's still not independent. While there's no strict definition for  "energy independence," experts said Trump's promise is possible under a loose definition.


Trump said energy independence will stop other countries from using oil as a political weapon.

Perhaps the most notable instance of this was in 1973 when Arab countries within the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) placed an oil embargo on the United States and the Netherlands for providing support to Israel in the Yom Kippur War.


Trump has said he will tap into untouched shale, oil and natural gas reserves, reduce regulation and encourage the use of natural gas in order to become energy independent.

Robert Godby, the director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policies at the University of Wyoming, said energy independence has multiple definitions.

Energy independence in its strongest form can mean the United States produces as much energy as it uses (we currently produce a little less than 90 percent of the total energy we use), but Godby said the definition is usually weakened to simply mean creating an environment where prices and supply are stable.

Although we don't know for certain yet what a Trump Administration wants to achieve, it seems most likely Trump's promise falls into the broadest category where the supply and price of energy is stable.

Under these definitions, Godby said Trump could attempt to achieve the goal of producing as much energy as we use by opening up production and reducing regulation. He could also do so if he encouraged the use of renewable energy within the industry, though his policy promises have been mostly silent on renewable policy.


One of the reasons the United States imports a portion of its energy is because of costs. When oil prices fall, U.S. energy companies reduce production. Even the lowest-cost U.S. oil producers are still more expensive than producers in the Middle East. It's unclear if independence would be economically sensible given the volatility of the energy market.


Godby said that Trump's route toward the goal of energy independence could have unintended consequences and such actions may affect other industries and other promises.

For instance, Trump has promised to work to save coal-miner jobs, but that goal might be harder if, by lifting regulations on the natural gas industry he causes natural gas production to increase.

"We can't think about energy policy as separate from economic, environmental and trade policies. Trump's administration is going to have to sort through the unintended consequences of pursuing any new energy policies," Godby said.


Depending on whom you ask, the United States could produce the same amount of energy it consumes within the next five to 10 years, which would meet one definition of energy independence.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that United States imports will come into balance with exports between 2019 and 2040, depending on the cost of oil and the availability of different gas resources.

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