Is the U.S. Quietly Weaning Itself Off Foreign Oil?

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The United States isn't breaking its reliance on foreign oil any time in the near future, but over the next couple of decades, we will be importing much less oil for two simple reasons. We're drilling more crude, and we're driving more efficient cars.

In 2010, the United States imported 49% of its petroleum supplies. By 2035, the country will be importing just 36%, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's 2012 Annual Energy Outlook.

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While it's always healthy to be skeptical of long-term economic predictions, there are few positive trends pointing to a decrease in oil imports. Domestic oil production is expected to continue its boom, from 5.5 million barrels of oil a day in 2010 up to 6.7 million in 2020. It's predicted to drop after then, settling around 6.1 million in 2035. Both those production figures are higher than the EIA's previous estimates. On top of the extra domestic oil, the EIA says we'll be using the equivalent of an additional million barrels a day of biofuels, further cutting our need for imports.

Meanwhile, fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks are scheduled to tick up to 35.4 miles per gallon by 2016, which will keep the demand for gas and other transport fuel relatively in check, growing at a slight 0.2% year. The Obama administration has proposed even tighter standards that would require car makers' to increase their fleet average to 54.5 by 2025. If they go into effect, they'll help reduce American demand for gas even more. 

If all goes well, and the U.S. can keep its thirst for fuel contained, we'll naturally begin to wean ourselves off foreign oil. A bit, at least. We're still looking at millions of imported barrels a day. So don't start having any fantasies of energy independence yet. 

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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