US's growing dependence on foreign energy


A capsule summary of the energy policies of the last 8 US presidents from Michael Milken's presentation at the global conference on “America’s Energy Future.”

* In 1974 with 36.1% of oil from foreign sources, President Richard Nixon said, “At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need.”

* In 1975 with 36.1% of oil from foreign sources, President Gerald Ford said, “We must reduce oil imports by one million barrels per day by the end of this year and by two million barrels per day by the end of 1977.”

* In 1979 with 40.5% of oil from foreign sources, President Jimmy Carter said, “Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977 – never.”

* In 1981 with 43.6% of oil from foreign sources, President Ronald Reagan said, “While conservation is worthy in itself, the best answer is to try to make us independent of outside sources to the greatest extent possible for our energy.”

* In 1992 with 47.2% of oil from foreign sources, President George Bush said, “When our administration developed our national energy strategy, three principles guided our policy: reducing our dependence on foreign oil…”

* In 1995 with 49.8% of oil from foreign sources, President Bill Clinton said, “The nation’s growing reliance on imports of oil…threatens the nation’s security…[we] will continue efforts to…enhance domestic energy production.”

* In 2006 with 65.5% of oil from foreign sources, President George W. Bush said, “Breakthroughs…will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025.”

* In 2009 with 66.2% of oil from foreign sources, President Barack Obama said, “It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs.”

But they get an "A" for effort!

A history of false starts for US energy independence

(Photo by Colin Gregory Palmer / CC Attribution 2.0 Generic)


  1. Well, and the reason for consistent failure is simple. The second gas prices go up by a penny, the public loses its appetite for ending oil addiction. We don’t live in a dictatorship where the president can simply declare it to be true. If the people dig in their heels, nothing changes. I’m more optimistic than most that it’s really going to happen this time, but only because technology has finally caught up to the desired policy.

  2. Let’s be clear that the statistics and quotes are not *necessarily* contradictory. It is possible – I doubt that it is actual, but I have not researched the subject – that the proportion of our energy needs met by oil decreased while the proportion of our oil used that comes from foreign sources increased. To arrive at the implied conclusion actually does require additional premises that cannot be merely assumed.

    Of course, my hunch is that the point is ultimately valid. But bad arguments for true conclusions only hurt positive causes.

  3. Another reason for this continued fail is that OPEC has been very successful at keeping the price of their (cheap to produce) oil just far enough below the prices of alternatives so that the latter never really get off the ground.

  4. You should have included per capita consumption.

    Anyone supporting opening up ANWAR, off-shore drilling and oil shale can point to your numbers to say that the bans and restrictions we have in place to limit new domestic production are the reasons why we have a growing dependence on foreign oil, particularly since the EPA was formed under Nixon in 1970.

    And while I believe everyone has a right to reinvent and reform themselves, Michael Milken was no saint. I want to know if there’s some special interest hidden from public view, that Milken is pushing, given his infamous title of being the junk bond king, and the fact that he used inside information to make trades that he personally benefited from.


  5. Sadly, I don’t see any reason to think it will be any different after this administration.

  6. The problem has always been this – Oil is a fungible resource. As long as it’s cheaper to buy it elsewhere and transport it to the US, it doesn’t matter how much domestic production we can provide. We will always go with the cheapest source. Were it otherwise, we’d have paid Canada to tap the oils sands and the US would be tapping the Colorado oil shales. These two sources are said to contain enough retreivable oil to meet all of the Western hemisphere’s oil needs for an extended (some say 20, some say 50, some say longer, I’m not sure who to beleive) years.

  7. Is it a little weird that Obama’s only been in office for a year and we’re already judging him as if he’s had 2 whole terms to fix things and just messed it up?

    1. Funny, I thought it was weird that he’s been in office for a year and is often judged as if he got there last week and is still settling in.

  8. Electric lightweight cars made of bioplastic. Detroit could be put back to work making bullet trains, as well. We have an amazing opportunity here, I hope we don’t fuck it up.

    The trend doesn’t look good, though.

  9. That delightful litany conflates increase dependence on foreign oil…

    …with increased dependence on oil.

    You’d think we would have learned to use low-power appliances & light rail by now. (And note the new /de-facto/ power supply is the USB port.)

    In 1980, Scientific American called for a fleet of US cars getting an average of 40 MPG by 1990. You-know-who was president, busy taking down the solar panels from the roof of the White House…

    (Oh, and BTW – feel free to judge Obama. Bring it on! The Gulf Oil Spill is his 9/11, and he will be exploiting it to enact an Energy Patriot Act reeal soon, while Big Oil is at its weakest!)

    1. (And note the new /de-facto/ power supply is the USB port.)

      Where does the USB port get its power from? And where does the PSU get it’s power?

      1. Unicorns on glittering treadmills!

        (BTW the serious answer is oil combustion is much more efficient in plants, not in car engines. And your house power requires endless, wasteful transformers & resistors to step it _down_ to the power levels that modern gadgets actually _use_.)

        1. True, I’ve thought for years about having a pair of low-voltage power supply rods that would run along the baseboard of the house run from a larger, more efficient remote transformer.

          But we rent, so it seems like it would just be wasted.

        2. (BTW the serious answer is oil combustion is much more efficient in plants, not in car engines. And your house power requires endless, wasteful transformers & resistors to step it _down_ to the power levels that modern gadgets actually _use_.)

          Actually, the transformers and switch-mode supplies (not resistors) that power our gadgets are quite efficient; exchanging them for a central transformer is by no means a sure way to better efficiency, and it has other problems — not least of which is the fact that lower voltage means higher current and power loss in wires grows with the square of the current, so you’d either lose a lot more in the wires in the house, or you’d need much better/thicker wires to make up for it. A central transformer would have to be dimensioned for the maximum possible draw, but usually run just one or two gadgets, which also ruins efficiency. The gadgets would have to cope with the spikes and noise of sharing the power supply; at least some of them would need extra circuitry just to smooth that out. Some gadgets have valid need for higher voltages — stepping up DC is not trivial.

          Overall, this is a non-solution to a non-problem.

  10. You all realize that energy independence is impossible right? If we shift to alternatives then we just change the materials we have to import. Also, trade does have a moderating influence on global politics. It’s the whole “caravans instead of tanks” idea.

    1. Importing metals (and rare elements like neodymium or even just lithium, which is what I assume you’re referring to) is fundamentally different from importing oil, because metals are infinitely reusable.

      Once you build a wind turbine, at the end of its life you can take it apart and make it into a new wind turbine. You can’t do that with oil. Once you have enough metals to support your current economy, you only need to import for growth, not maintenance. This also means the market can potentially support much higher prices for reusable materials, since that last indefinitely.
      Now, we might be stupid and throw it in a landfill instead, but that just means that the raw materials are still cheap.

      1. “metals are infinitely reusable.”

        Sorry, but they are not. Perhaps you’ve heard of entropy?
        Or corrosion, or contamination, or even abrasion? Nothing is infinitely reusable. Every use of material entails loss due to some factor. Metals are highly reusable, but not infinitely so.

        Recycling requires a considerable energy input at well. If your hypothetical wind turbine was to be recycled, which energy source would you use to rebuild it? The next turbine over? Sorry, but entropy wins in the end.

        By the way, I’m all for mining dumpsites to harvest resources, but there’s no free lunch.

    2. The goal is not “independence”. Everyone is interdependent.

      The goal is breaking the addiction. An addict is always poor & needy (like us), and the pusher is always rich & idle (like the MidEast dictatorships we mindlessly support).

      The more we distribute our energy sources, the less power accumulates in the hands of the corrupt.

  11. I think these statistics are a bit misleading. The US imports about 40% of that foreign oil from Canada and Mexico – not exactly countries that have an interest in undermining the US. The rest comes from a variety of countries around the world, so that no one source could stop the flow.

    I think the real issue with oil is that it is a tradable commodity, so the US oil prices are affected by world supply and price, no matter what percentage is produced in the US.

    1. I don’t read Mother Jones regularly, but I have read some rather good pieces from them in the past. That is not one of them.

      That article is full of giant gaping logical fallacies. Foremost of which is the bullshit so-called “alternatives” (straw-men) he sets up and then gleefully takes-down.

      Nowhere does he say anything about Gen IV Fast-Breeder reactors. We have enough waste from earlier generations of nuclear plants to provide fuel for Gen IV plants for possibly centuries. His dismissal of Wind and Solar as being “decades away from being meaningful oil replacements,” is astoundingly ignorant. Denmark, for example, gets 19% of its energy supply from Wind power. Germany currently gets more than 14% of its energy from renewable sources, with a target of 27% by 2020.

      The Desertec plan (should it go forward) would supply the power needed by the EU, North Africa, and the Middle East from two primary sources: Wind and Concentrated Solar Thermal power.

      This shitty article positively reeks of the attitude that the entrenched system of subsidies, kickbacks, bribes, and infrastructure is too well-developed to spend the effort necessary to switch to some other system, so why bother? It’s too hard, fuck it, let’s keep the status quo!

      Newsflash: oil is going to run out. This century. At some point, we’re going to have to switch to some other form of energy, and you know what, the giant ball of nuclear fusion in the sky provides a hell of a lot more energy than dirty hydrocarbons miles underground.

      And that’s completely ignoring the dangers posed to our climate by consumption of hydrocarbons.

      1. You said:
        “Germany currently gets more than 14% of its energy from renewable sources, with a target of 27% by 2020.”

        Thats because Germany put a shit ton of government money behind them, money that now, it can’t afford. Their canceling current and future contracts, that whole German model for renewable energy is now dead. Because, it just costs to much. It might work in the future when tech is better, and we need to invest to get there, but in the mean time, we need something to tide us over… NATURAL GAS buddy!

  12. When people decry our “dependence on foreign oil”, whose foreign oil are they thinking of? Canada’s? Mexico’s? Saudi Arabia’s? Canada’s our #1 foreign supplier. Mexico’s 2nd. Venezuela’s 3rd. Nigeria’s 4th. Saudi Arabia is 5th. When people say “foreign oil”, they don’t think of Canada or Mexico, they think of Arabs. Isn’t that racial profiling? Or what passes for it these days?

    1. Have the numbers changed greatly in recent years? This site does say that Canada is our #1 supplier, but we get just as much oil from the Persian Gulf in general as from Canada. I’m curious as to whether your information is more up-to-date than mine.

    2. The Saudis are dictators, just like Saddam Hussein, except when the SAUDIS attack us, the MSM excuses them. So, yes, I think a little prejudice IS involved, here!

  13. Don’t blame us if those people built countries on top of our oil!

    Riding in cars is our God given right. It’s right there in Combustiasties, right after where Jesus gives a thumbs up to high fructose corn syrup and chewing tobacco for kids.

  14. America has plenty of oil…which we arent allowed to drill for and when a fluke happens people point figners and say “ha! see!?”

    We cant put up the solar farms we want to since we keep getting people sueing for eviromental impact reports and wether or not some field mice will be affected.

    Nuclear power isnt allowed because everytime we try to put up a new reactor people scream about 3 mile island.

    And even in rich, liberal areas we have to fight those people to put up windmills! Freaking windmills!

    America can be energy independent if we would just shut out the screamings of those few people who want to block every well and every windmill we want to put up.

  15. Biodiesel, yo!

    It’s the best near-term solution to massively increasing domestic fuel production.

  16. Michael Milkin, SERIOUSLY?

    Next this mother fucker is going to lecture me on how we should conserve our timber resources. Why isn’t he rotting in prison?

  17. Google “llnl energy flow chart” for an assessment of all our energy inputs and outputs.

    @millrick, yes, entropy ends in the end.Our largest source entropy is the Sun – hopefully, when that burns out we’ll have moved on to green pastures. Your point about energy return on energy investment is significant. Here’s a somewhat depressing estimate of current renewables:

    Some of the bright spots are the waveguide nuclear, that Bill Gates is proposing, which burns nuclear waste from the previous gen of fission plants, and the nano assisted electrolysis that Nocera’s group is developing in conjunction with MIT.

  18. But they get an “A” for effort!

    No way. More like C-minus at best.

    An “A” should be reserved for a President who will stand up in front of the voters who elected him and say “look, we can do this but in the short-to-medium term energy is going to cost us a lot more than it does now.”

  19. We are, and have been, exporting wealth for energy, whether to Canada or Saudi Arabia. And it shows.
    Domestic investment in renewables has the added effect of keeping the dollars in our economy. The amount of just conservation work to be done could bring about full employment.

  20. The reason is simple, we make it damn hard to exploit our own natural resources. Look at all the people coming out saying we shouldn’t have even been drilling in the Gulf since this BP thing. Its a double standard, get off foreign oil, but your not putting a rig or pipeline in my backyard!

    Yes, we must move away from oil all together, but honestly, solar, wind etc is years away from being viable. Electric cars? You plug them in at night, where do you think that electricity comes from?

    Biofuel? Terrible for the environment, plus it highly inflates the price of basic food stuffs and contributes to third world starving. Poor Mexicans can’t afford tortillas because of liberal environmentalism ethanol fetish.

    Whats the answer? What do we use to create that cleaner non-middle east oil dependent bridge to true alternatives?


    Natural Gas burns cleaner than any other fossil fuel. Power Plants can be easily retrofitted to switch from coal to NG. NG is carried through pipelines, not trucks, reducing the carbon overhead.

    Cars, can be easily equipped to run on NG, many cities have fleets of city vehicles and public transportation buses that run on Natural Gas.

    NG requires much less refining than oil to use as a fuel, you switch your cars to NG, you eliminate the massive energy needed, and carbon/pollution produced to refine oil into gas, plus the harms of burning the gasoline itself, plus a huge chunk of the demand for that oil in the first place.

    The cost of btu per unit of oil vs btu per equivalent unit of gas is many times smaller.

    Oil 5.78 million BTU/barrel, cost $76 per barrel = 76,052 btu per dollar

    That’s unrefined oil, you only get about 20 gallons of gas from one barrel (42 gal) of oil.

    And you get about the same amount of energy from one barrel of gasoline.

    Gasoline 5.6 million BTU/barrel cost (@2.50/gal) $105 per barrel = 53,333 btu per dollar.


    One thousand cubic feet of gas (Mcf) -> 1.027 million BTU
    1Mcf of gas cost today, $4.15 = 247,469 btu per dollar!

    More than 4 times the energy for the dollar than gas, and burns 40-50% cleaner than coal oil or gas.

    Plus, there is more NG in the US than Saudia Arabia has oil… 1,700 TRILLION cubic feet, according to Energy Information Administration – Annual Energy Outlook 2009.

    So WTF America, lets get real about our energy future. Yea, we need to ween back foreign oil, and find something to tide us over until we make solar, wind, etc really work. NG, but its made by those evil petroleum companies, the ones Democrats would tax out of existence if they had their way.

    Now, I’m all for taxing oil companies, but I think there should be some big incentives to switching things over to NG. Right now we have an abundance of it, so it wouldn’t make sense to give incentives to get more, our storage capacity is at all time highs, we need to start using more of it.

    Its cleaner, cheaper, and made right here at home.

    PS, I can’t log into BoingBoing at work for some reason.

  21. Energy policy has been constant since Nixon. No nukes, use coal in it it’s place. You can think Ralph Nader for that one. Oil, oil is another matter. The simple fact is no alternative power source except fusion is going to replace oil. Oil makes gasoline. Gasoline is a viable fuel in a cheap tank, and easy to pump into an engine. You can store it from Siberia to the empty quarter of Saudia Arabia and use it on demand. And there’s a huge industrial base ready to use it. The only solution to oil excepting depletion is to transition to fusion and synthesize gasoline from base elements. Energetically intensive, but until we develop the ability to do this, our only real alternative is drive the transportation system we have to failure. Electric trains you say? Well, what powers the train? I’ll tell you what does that in a non-fusion society. Coal! Do you really want to go there? Think solar thermal will save our day? No, it’s a nice way to augment coal, but it’s no replacement. Solar thermal is a good tool to use if we find that CO2 is really wrecking the environment to the extent many think. Even here in sunny Az the 3 large solar concentration systems promised 2 years ago are not going to be built. Funny how all that fanfare was for nothing.

  22. Great to see there’s aready a whole thread of discussion about how we can use less oil. Fab!

    My 2 cents:

    Fastest gains are through energy efficiency. Raise the average MPG of personal vehicals, which (shockingly) has hardly changed since the Model T…

    Mid term – High speed rail networks that make long distance freight and human transport more efficient. Better public transportation (and bicycle paths) to reduce car commuting. More solar and wind power.

    Long term – Redesign cities to be more about people (and less about cars). Breakthrough energy solutions (fuel cells, etc) become common place. More and more renewable energy (solar, wind and maybe new options like wave power).

    Forget nuclear – it’s a boondoggle.

  23. Politically impossible, yes. Breeder reactors could have us self-sufficient if that’s the way we wanted to go. But we don’t. Today’s oil-economy might not be desirable, but it’s the box we’ve put ourselves in, so the alternatives must be even worse. I guess.

    Breeder reactors don’t replace oil. We spend a tiny fraction of the oil supply on electricity, and even then we do it only under a few rare circumstances (getting electricity on the cheap ISN’T one of them). El presidante could declare oil banned from being used in energy production, and your electrical prices wouldn’t even blink.

    Oil is used for transportation and plastics. Everything else is just gravy. Transportation is the real problem. Nothing packs energy density in like gasoline does. We are working our way up to where a battery might be a viable substitute, but it is still a ways off and it only solves part of the transportation issue. Unless you can a battery that can fly an airplane or drive a truck, you still have not “solved” the problem.

    Whatever the case, all this talk of smearing the US with nukes (a black swan event in the making if I ever heard of one…), or slathering every rooftop with solar cells, or whatever alternative energy scenario that tickles your fancy, just realize that electricity isn’t the problem. We can make that shit. We can make it so absurdly cheap that it is going to be decades before alternative energies even begin to think about catching up. We need portable power that can be recharged quickly. Save smearing the landscape with nukes and having to deal with their waste until we solves that problem, m’kay?

  24. If we DO manage to get transportation shifted more toward electrical, though, that’s going to put a greater burden on the power plants. Granted, it’s less of one.

    Plus there’s the fact that the bulk of our energy comes from OTHER fossil fuels, with all the emissions those produce. Oil’s not the only problem here.

  25. Nuke power is no better than coal in terms of sustainability. We actually have a limited supply of the stuff and nukes destroy it when they use it. Granted, there is a lot to like in nuclear power, but there is a lot to dislike. The more mundane issue with nuclear power is dealing with the waste. Personally, I find the waste issue secondary.

    The real concern with nuclear power are rare events that have catastrophic consequences. A nuclear power plant blowing down wind of New York City, even if the fallout was “harmless” deemed more or less harmless, would devastate this nation. It would be an instant depression and do trillions upon trillions of dollars worth of damage. The failure mode on nukes are just too damned terrible for me to be itching for a bunch of these things scattered around the nation.

    Yeah yeah, they cram these things with fail safes, monitor it up the ass, so on and so forth. Is it going to fail safe if I ram a 747 into it? What if I smuggle in a few barrels of explosives and detonate them near the core? It really takes only one extraordinarily rare and unlikely event to leave us very much up shits creek. I, frankly, would rather see us geoengineer the freaking planets atmosphere before we try and build enough nukes to meet our energy needs.

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