According to a report released November 12 by the International Energy Agency (see also this New York Times article), the United States is projected to pass Russia as the word’s top producer of natural gas by 2015. (The International Energy Agency was formed in 1974 by oil-importing nations, including the U.S., in response to that year’s oil crisis.)
Then just two years after that, we’re expected to pass Saudi Arabia as the largest oil producer. And 13 years after that, we’re on track to become a net oil exporter.
All in all, in just 20 years the U.S. is likely to be entirely energy self-sufficient.
All this reflects a radical change in outlook over just the past few years, thanks in part to rapidly improving extraction technology (some of it controversial) and a sharp rise in production, but also large part to greater efficiency and conservation, such as the higher automobile fuel economy standards mandated by the Obama administration earlier this year. The IEA report may prove surprising to some (for example, those who believed the Romney campaign’s claims that Obama was somehow reducing U.S. oil production), but the U.S. shift toward energy independence has been increasingly clear for some time, as witness for example this NYT article from back in March.
As that earlier article pointed out, “Not only has the United States reduced oil imports from members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries by more than 20 percent in the last three years, it has become a net exporter of refined petroleum products like gasoline for the first time since the Truman presidency.”
To belabor the obvious, this is both good and bad news. Energy independence is good, as is deriving it in considerable part from conservation, but increasing fossil fuel production is not so good in that it adds yet more new carbon to the carbon cycle, which makes the oceans more acidic and intensifies the greenhouse effect. A few years ago there was still hope of limiting the increase in global average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius. A very recent report from the World Bank suggests it’s going to be hard to hold it under 4 degrees.
(Slightly updated since the original post mainly to add the last paragraph.)