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Energy Independence in an Interdependent World

CAMBRIDGE – When President Richard Nixon proclaimed in the early 1970’s that he wanted to secure national energy independence, the United States imported a quarter of its oil. By the decade’s end, after an Arab oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, domestic production was in decline, Americans were importing half their petroleum needs at 15 times the price, and it was widely believed that the country was running out of natural gas.

Energy shocks contributed to a lethal combination of stagnant economic growth and inflation, and every US president since Nixon likewise has proclaimed energy independence as a goal. But few people took those promises seriously.

Today, energy experts no longer scoff. By the end of this decade, according to the US Energy Information Administration, nearly half of the crude oil that America consumes will be produced at home, while 82% will come from the US side of the Atlantic. Philip Verleger, a respected energy analyst, argues that, by 2023, the 50th anniversary of Nixon’s “Project Independence,” the US will be energy independent in the sense that it will export more energy than it imports.

Verleger argues that energy independence “could make this the New American Century by creating an economic environment where the United States enjoys access to energy supplies at much lower cost than other parts of the world.” Already, Europeans and Asians pay 4-6 times more for their natural gas than Americans do.