Fact Check: The United States' Energy Independence Was NOT 'Sent Back Fifty Years' In 10 Days

Fact Check

  • by: Dana Ford
Fact Check: The United States' Energy Independence Was NOT 'Sent Back Fifty Years' In 10 Days Not So Fast

Was the United States' energy independence "sent back fifty years" in 10 days? No, that's not true: Although it's true that the country was "energy independent" in 2019 for the first time in more than 60 years, there's no evidence policy changes or anything else reversed that in the 10 days leading up to the claim, which was made February 11, 2021. Data is not yet available for 2021, and there were several months in 2020 during which the United States was "energy dependent," consuming more energy than it produced.

The claim appeared in a Facebook post (archived here) published on February 11, 2021. The post read:

The United States Was Energy Independent in 2019 for the First Time Since 1957,. in ten days we are sent back fifty years,. A re post Pass it on

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed Feb 17 16:25:25 2021 UTC)

Energy independence is a policy goal dating back to the oil price shocks of the 1970s, which drove inflation in the U.S. economy. Since then, U.S. presidents and others have pushed to reduce the U.S. economy's dependence on petroleum from Middle Eastern and other countries whose foreign and domestic policies we end up underwriting by building our economy on the supply of oil from those nations. In recent years, shale oil and fracking have been proposed as alternatives, as has been drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other sensitive U.S. public lands. In some of his first acts as president, Joe Biden banned further drilling in Arctic wildlife refuge and instituted new restrictions on fracking.

There are at least two questions to unpack in the post.

The first is whether it's true that the United States was "energy independent" in 2019 for the first time since 1957. On this question, the post is correct, although the definition and data have been argued.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), a government agency that collects and disseminates independent energy information, U.S. energy production in 2019 exceeded consumption for the first time in 62 years. Here's what the EIA said about that milestone in 2020:

In 2019, for the first time since 1957, energy production exceeded energy consumption in the United States on an annual basis, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) Monthly Energy Review. The United States produced 101.0 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) of energy and consumed 100.2 quads last year.

In other words, if being "energy independent" is defined as a situation where production exceeds consumption, then the first part of the post is correct: The United States was energy independent in 2019 for the first time since 1957.

The United States does still rely on energy imports and is still inextricably linked to world markets, which is where the arguments start. In a January 2020 piece in The Washington Post, Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, argued the U.S. is not simply energy independent, despite the rise in domestic production. He wrote:

The oil market is still global, which means the price Americans pay for fuel is still set by global oil prices and is vulnerable to supply disruptions, wherever they occur.

The second question to unpack from the post is whether it's true that the United States was "sent back fifty years" in 10 days.

The post does not make clear what 10-day period it was referring to. It is reminiscent, however, of other social media posts that attribute some event, like the supposed change in the price of oil, to the fact that Biden took office. There is no publicly available evidence to support that claim, whether it applies to the first 10 days of February, 2021 or any 10 days since Biden took office on January, 20, 2021.

The post was published on February 11, 2021, just as a weather system began to put much of the United States in a deep freeze, so that weather system would not have been a factor in energy consumption or production in the days preceding the post.

Data on U.S. energy production and consumption in 2021 is not yet available. In fact, the most recent month for which we have data is October 2020. You can take a look at the numbers from the EIA here. For the purposes of this fact-check, what we are interested in appears on page 13.

According to the data, the United States produced more energy that it consumed for all the months that we have data for in 2020, with the notable exceptions of January, February, July and August. In those months, the country consumed more energy that it produced, which -- assuming the above-stated meaning of "energy independent" -- would make the United States "energy dependent" for those months. Indeed, if the country was "sent back," as the post alleged, it could have been during January-February 2020 or the summer of 2020. It didn't happen recently and it didn't happen in 10 days.

As a final point, it's important to note that data for 2020 as a whole so far show the United States produced more energy than it consumed. The EIA's next report is set to be released on February 23, 2021.

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  Dana Ford

Dana Ford is an Atlanta-based reporter and editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at Atlanta Magazine Custom Media and as a writer/ editor for CNN Digital. Ford has more than a decade of news experience, including several years spent working in Latin America.

Read more about or contact Dana Ford

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