While the United States and other countries in the Western Hemisphere are poised to become major energy producers over the next decade, the shift in global energy production from the Middle East to the Americas will be gradual and stability in the Persian Gulf will remain import to U.S. energy security.
According to a report in The New York Times this morning, while U.S. energy imports have trended downward in recent years (from a high in 2005), energy imports from Saudi Arabia have increased recently, tying U.S. interests more closely to security developments in the Strait of Hormuz. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency’s most recent data, U.S. petroleum imports from Saudi Arabia grew by more than 22 percent between May 2011 and May 2012.
Yet the growing reliance on Saudi oil may be short-lived if production in the Gulf of Mexico, Canada and elsewhere comes online in the next few years.
Regardless of whether the United States imports directly from the Middle East or not, the United States will have continued equity in the region. Although shifting oil contracts to more stable suppliers in the Western Hemisphere will improve U.S. assured access to energy by reducing the vulnerabilities over a physical disruption (like an Iranian closure of the Strait of Hormuz), security developments in the region can take a toll on the global petroleum market, raising prices that will have knock-on effects for the U.S. economy.
“There are going to be tensions in the Middle East whether that oil is going to the United States or going to somewhere else,” Adam Sieminski, administrator of the U.S.. Energy Information Administration, told The New York Times. “And if oil prices go up because of a problem in the Middle East, that causes a problem for the world in general and not one that is specific to the United States.”
As a result, the U.S. Navy will have a continued presence in the region in order to deter attacks against physical infrastructure in the Middle East (e.g. Saudi oil facilities) as well as any efforts to disrupt shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.
Photo: The Guided-missile destroyer USS Porter (DDG 78) was damaged in a collision with a Japanese owned bulk oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on August 12 as it conducted maritime security operations and theatre security cooperation. Courtesy of Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jonathan Sunderman and the U.S. Navy.