By Irina Slav
The United States will become a net oil and gas exporter by 2022, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in this year’s edition of its Annual Energy Outlook. Slower domestic demand, along with growth in natural gas, oil, and oil product production will drive the transformation, the EIA said.
That sounds like President Trump’s dream of energy dominance come true, but of course, this would only happen under certain circumstances, as the EIA notes in the beginning of the report. For starters, the forecasting model the authority uses stipulates annual economic growth of between 1.5 percent and 2.6 percent between 2017 and 2050, with energy demand varying between flat and growing by 0.7 percent.
Another important stipulation in the model is the growing adoption of renewable energy and natural gas instead of oil. These are trends we can already see, and they will likely only intensify, despite the 30-percent import tariff on Chinese solar modules, which caused some to fear that the U.S. solar industry would suffer a severe blow. While the tariffs may be a deterrent to the solar industry, it will get a boost from favorable federal and state renewable energy policies, tax incentives, and lower costs thanks to technological improvements.
Oil and gas production will also continue to grow along with renewables, although oil production growth will stagnate around 2032, according to the EIA forecast. As demand at home slackens, oil and gas will have to find other buyers. Higher oil prices, the EIA notes, will motivate higher exports and lower local consumption, so the country could become a net oil and gas exporter even before 2022 if prices are high enough.
Yet, this state of affairs will not continue for long: After 2038, exports will begin to decline because of the lack of any remaining space for technological improvements that would enhance its competitiveness on global markets, and also because of the depletion of the lowest-cost, highest-quality production assets. By 2045, the EIA estimates, the U.S. will once again become a net importer of oil and gas.
Now, the EIA’s report does not detail the main destinations for these exports, but we are already seeing U.S. producers expand their international presence. China and India are both likely to be top destinations for both oil and gas, but especially gas. Both countries are set on shifting their oil dependence to gas dependence due to its lower emissions and price. The competition will be intense, however, which should spur more technological improvements to lower prices and boost American oil and gas competitiveness.
Geopolitical development could also contribute to this growing presence. At the end of January, the first-ever cargo of U.S. condensate reached the United Arab Emirates, one of OPEC’s top producers. The UAE has apparently been hit by a shortage of condensate, because of the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar — its main supplier of the light petroleum liquid.
The United States will continue to import crude oil, as its refineries need different blends to process into fuels; the heavy grades that go into these blends are typically imported. Yet, after it surrendered the top spot in consumption to China last year, the U.S. could continue sliding down the consumers’ list under the EIA’s scenarios.