The United States produced an average of 12.9 million barrels of crude oil per day in 2023, surpassing the all-time global record for average daily output. This milestone is consistent with a boom in crude oil production over the past decade, as U.S. energy production has grown faster in this period than at any other point in American history.

But is the U.S. energy independent, as some have claimed?

High production numbers over the past decade have prompted leaders to claim that the U.S. reached some form of energy independence. Both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump claim their presidency has, or nearly has, achieved this goal. 

At a March 2024 rally, Trump said that his administration achieved energy independence “three years ago,” and argued that Biden’s actions have undone this achievement. Conversely, in one interview with E&E News, an offshoot of Politico (Lean Left bias), Biden campaign spokesman James Singer said the “United States is closer to energy independence than we have been in decades” due to the current administration's actions.

According to Politico (Lean Left bias), energy independence has been a rallying cry in every presidential election since the 1973 Arab oil embargo, marking a central campaign promise for every U.S. president since

So what does energy independence really look like, and is the U.S. energy independent? Here are some key facts and misleading narratives regarding U.S. energy independence. 

Is the U.S. Dependent on Foreign Energy?

Historically, the U.S. has not been energy independent. According to the Energy Information Administration, “U.S. energy consumption was higher than U.S. energy production in every year from 1958–2018. The difference between consumption and production was met by imports.”

This began to change nearly 20 years ago when innovations in a drilling method called hydraulic fracturing – known as fracking – allowed access to oil and natural gas reserves that were previously too expensive to tap.

Before the fracking boom of the mid-2000s, U.S. oil production had been on a 35-year decline, as the U.S. was fulfilling less than 50% of its petroleum needs domestically. At this point, the U.S. was highly dependent on major oil exporters like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela – two countries not always geopolitically aligned with the U.S. This dependence led to crises like the 1973 oil embargo, which came to a head when the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC) established an oil embargo on the U.S. in response to the nation’s support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. As a result, oil prices skyrocketed and gasoline shortages spread across the country.

But innovations in fracking allowed access to oil and gas-rich shale formations, setting the table for what is often referred to as the “Shale Revolution”. In the Marcellus Shale region, for example – an area that covers parts of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland, Tennessee, Virginia, and Kentucky – “gas productivity per drilling rig… increased by nearly 100x” between 2007 and 2023, according to the Institute for Progress.

Although the U.S. continues to import crude oil from overseas, the shale revolution has helped reduce its dependence on foreign energy.

What is Energy Independence?

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) defines energy independence as “the state in which a nation does not need to import energy resources to meet its energy demand.”

Others, like Robert Rapier, Editor-in-Chief of Shale Magazine and frequent contributor to Forbes Magazine (Center bias), have said energy independence occurs when “we produce more energy than we consume.” 

This is an important distinction. By Rapier’s standard, the U.S. is energy independent, as the country is producing historic amounts of energy and drilling more crude oil than any country ever. As of 2019, the U.S. officially produced more energy than it consumed, and it has remained this way since.

However, despite the country’s huge output, the U.S. continues to import foreign crude oil to meet its energy needs. This is because much of the U.S.’s oil refinery infrastructure – which predates the fracking boom – is designed to process heavier crude oils like the ones produced in Russia and the Persian Gulf, as opposed to the lighter crude oils that are extracted domestically.

Is the U.S. Energy Independent?

By the EERE’s criterion, the U.S. has not been energy independent for 75 years, as it continues to import foreign oil. But by other standards, like those outlined by Rapier, the United States achieved energy independence in 2019.

There is no single universally agreed-upon definition for “energy independence”, so opinions on the question vary, but the EERE’s definition is representative of perhaps the most common, and certainly most stringent perspective. 

As both Biden and Trump make it a key talking point on the campaign trail, some say energy independence has become an oversimplified campaign promise. Still, it remains a matter of debate whether either leader has or will achieve this goal.

While it is important to note that U.S. energy production did surpass consumption in 2019 under the Trump presidency, this achievement came after decades of continued growth in the oil and gas industry. These gains were the result of fracking flourishing under both the Bush and Obama presidencies. Hence, attributing this success to Trump alone may not be entirely accurate. 

Similarly, under President Biden, U.S. oil and gas production, alongside greener forms of energy production like wind and solar, has continued to steadily increase. Yet Biden is seemingly reluctant to bring focus to the success of oil and gas under his administration, as it runs contrary to his public hopes of eventually phasing out oil and gas use to combat climate change.

Harrison Fell, an energy economics expert and North Carolina State University professor, argues that the U.S. must invest in these renewable energy forms, which are not subject to “global price shocks” in the way oil and gas are to be truly energy independent. Overall, he says “energy independence” is a “useless term” because it fails to acknowledge oil and gas as part of a global market.

There are only a few countries considered to be nearly entirely energy independent, most of which are small and mostly reliant on renewable energy. Costa Rica, for example, derived between 92% and 95% of its energy needs from domestic renewable sources in 2023, including hydroelectric, wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy sources. Similarly, Iceland derives 85% of its energy from renewable sources, with 65% coming from geothermal sources, and another 20% from hydroelectric. The rest comes from imported fossil fuels.

However, it is important to note these are much smaller countries with far lower energy needs than the U.S.

As it stands, it would be difficult for the U.S. to reach EERE’s standard of energy independence through oil and gas use alone. This is mainly because of its infrastructure and refining capabilities being geared toward heavier crude oils, which are cheaper to refine than American-drilled light oil. This makes it far more profitable to import foreign heavy crude oil and refine it domestically while exporting the light crude oil found in the United States. 

So by some standards, the U.S. achieved energy independence in 2019 under the Trump administration, though this definition of energy independence is far from universally accepted. Until it can entirely meet its energy needs without the use of imports, many will not consider the U.S. an energy independent country.

Quinn Poseley is a news intern at AllSides. He has a Left bias.

Reviewed and edited by Andy Gorel, News Editor and Bias Analyst (Center bias), Malayna J. Bizier, AllSides News Assistant (Right bias), Johnathon Held, AllSides News Assistant (Lean Right bias), and Henry A. Brechter, Editor-in-chief (Center bias).