In 2008, the United States got 37% of its energy from petroleum, or oil, and experts project that demand for this fuel will stay strong over the next 20 years. U.S. domestic production of crude oil peaked around 1970 at about 9.5 million barrels per day and had declined to 5.1 million barrels per day by 2006. Today America imports almost two-thirds of its oil from a handful of nations. The EIA predicts that by 2030 U.S. production of oil will increase by a third, spurred by higher oil prices, while imports of foreign oil decline to 49% as a result of strides in vehicle efficiency and government requirements to increase the use of biofuels. But even this changing and hopeful trend can only go so far to address an enormous imbalance in U.S. demand and domestic supply of this crucial resource.
So the basic question remains: How long can we maintain our petroleum dependency? The EIA cites known conventional oil reserves at more than 1.3 trillion barrels worldwide, and the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that there may be another 600 billion barrels undiscovered.
At present, total world consumption is approximately 85 million barrels per day, more than 19 million of which is used by the United States.
At present, total world consumption is approximately 85 million barrels per day, more than 19 million of which is used by the United States. The nation’s dependency on oil and the rapidly rising demand for oil in other countries, such as China and India, are heightening concern that we will reach a point where the oil supply can no longer be increased to meet projected demand. While this will certainly be true eventually, there is no consensus as to whether we are already entering that period or it is decades away. Pinning down an exact time frame is nearly impossible as estimates of the amount of “recoverable” oil available can change depending on new discoveries, technological developments, and price.
Even if supply were not an issue, environmental concerns about the impact of burning fossil fuels like oil and the security risks of depending heavily on foreign sources for our supply are leading to a reassessment of our oil consumption and a search for conventional oil alternatives. Much of this attention is focused on the transportation sector, which relies heavily on oil. Legislation such as the CAFE standards, which encourage manufacturers to develop more efficient vehicles, and research into new energy sources, such as biofuels, both aim to reduce our demand for oil.