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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump says President Barack Obama’s administration has hindered energy production in the United States.
"Energy is under siege by the Obama administration," Trump said at the second presidential debate Oct. 9. "Under absolute siege. The EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, is killing these energy companies."
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton replied that on the contrary, "We are now, for the first time ever, energy independent."
Clinton’s claim that the United States is energy independent raised some eyebrows, so we decided to see if it was accurate.
Some energy experts we spoke with said the United States is close enough to energy independence that it could prosper without importing energy from unstable or unfriendly countries. Others said the United States isn’t quite there yet, even though it’s trending that way.
If the United States only used foreign energy sources, it would clearly be energy dependent. And if it only used domestic energy sources, it would clearly be energy independent. On this spectrum, the United States is definitely closer to independence than dependence, and getting closer every year. But it’s not at full energy independence yet.
The United States still consumes about 11 percent more energy than it produces, so it has to import from other nations to meet that need.
In 2015, the United States produced 87.9 quadrillion BTUs of energy and used 97.3 quadrillion BTUs, according to the Energy Information Administration, an office of the federal government. The United States imported about 11 quadrillion more BTUs of energy than it exported in 2015.
This means "the U.S. is not energy independent," said Kenneth Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.
That said, imports have been trending down significantly since the mid 2000s. The EIA has projected that the United States will switch from a net importer of energy to a net exporter sometime between 2020 and 2030.
"The U.S. is not currently energy independent and, while it is moving toward energy independence, it is not expected to be so for about a decade," said Paul Holtberg, leader of the EIA’s Analysis Integration Team.
This shift is happening because of changes in both supply and demand. Domestic natural gas and oil production has skyrocketed since hydraulic fracturing, the extraction method known as fracking, came into regular use in the late 2000s. At the same time, Americans are using less energy as a result of growing efficiency.
Clinton said the United States is energy independent for the "first time ever." However, going by net imports vs. net exports, the United States is currently a larger net importer than it was from the 1950s (as far back as the EIA data goes) through the 1970s, and again in the mid 1980s. So current net import levels are not unprecedented.
When people think of energy independence, they often think of oil because it’s the one source of energy that the United States has historically imported from potentially unstable areas. While the United States is essentially self-sufficient as it pertains to coal, natural gas and renewable energy sources, it still imports about 24 percent of its oil needs, even with the increase in fracking.
Even so, Marilyn Brown, a professor of sustainable systems at Georgia Institute of Technology, told PolitiFact that she thinks the United States is energy independent because it could meet its oil needs from a friendly country, like Mexico or Canada, if the oil market in one of its other top supplier countries became unstable.
North America as a whole is arguably energy independent, in that it produces all the energy it consumes on a net basis, several experts pointed out.
While Clinton’s claim that the United States is at present energy independent might not be fully correct numerically, the spirit of the claim is on target because the country is becoming less and less dependent on foreign sources, said global energy expert Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director for Energy and Sustainability at University of California, Davis.
While the United States is interwoven with the world energy market, if for some reason "all our fuel had to be produced in the United States, we could do it," she said.
Clinton said, "We are now, for the first time ever, energy independent."
The United States imports more energy than it exports, and it consumes more energy than it produces domestically. So the United States still relies on foreign energy sources for about 11 percent of its energy consumption needs.
However, this import-export gap is trending down. The EIA predicts the United States’ energy exports and imports will balance in the not-so-distant future. That said, imports and exports have been balanced in previous decades.
The United States is on track to energy independence, but it’s not there yet. Clinton's statement is not accurate and we rate it False.
EIA energy data tables, accessed Oct. 10, 2016
EIA, "U.S. energy imports and exports to come into balance for first time since 1950s," April 15, 2015
EIA, "Annual Energy Outlook," Sept. 15, 2016
World Bank, Energy imports, net (% of energy use), accessed Oct. 10, 2016
Email interview, Clinton spokesman Josh Schwerin, Oct. 10, 2016
Phone interview, Amy Jaffe, UC Davis executive director for Energy and Sustainability, Oct. 11, 2016
Phone interview, Robert Godby, University of Wyoming director of the Energy Economics & Public Policies Center, Oct. 10, 2016
Email interview, Jason Bordoff, Columbia University professor of international and public affairs, Oct. 10, 2016
Email interview, Kenneth Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University, Oct. 10, 2016
Email interview, Paul Holtberg, leader of the EIA’s Analysis Integration Team
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