Fracking Has Enhanced the U.S. Strategic Position in the Persian Gulf Region
After the Trump administration announced a new round of sanctions on his country and some of its high office-holders on Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded in bellicose terms, saying in a tweet that “…the US military has no business in the Persian Gulf. Removal of its forces is fully in line with interests of US and the world. But it’s now clear that the #B_Team is not concerned with US interests—they despise diplomacy, and thirst for war.”
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The “B Team” to which Zarif refers includes U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton, known for his hawkish views towards Iran, along with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Zayed.
The truth, of course, is that President Trump has thus far ignored calls for an overt military response recommended by his more aggressive advisors as retaliation for Iran’s recent provocations, including last week’s downing of an unmanned drone that the U.S. says was flying in international air space near the Strait of Hormuz. Instead, the President reportedly ordered cyber-attacks on Iranian air defense controls late last week, combined with Monday’s sanctions.
As is his habit, President Trump also responded with several tweets of his own related to the matter. I won’t quote them all here, but two that he sent out on Tuesday are especially revealing of how dramatically the U.S. strategic situation related to Middle East crude oil has shifted in recent years:
China gets 91% of its Oil from the Straight (sic), Japan 62%, & many other countries likewise. So why are we protecting the shipping lanes for other countries (many years) for zero compensation. All of these countries should be protecting their own ships on what has always been….
….a dangerous journey. We don’t even need to be there in that the U.S. has just become (by far) the largest producer of Energy anywhere in the world! The U.S. request for Iran is very simple – No Nuclear Weapons and No Further Sponsoring of Terror!
The President’s own bellicosity aside, the rest of these two messages are quite telling and absolutely correct: Other nations around the world, including China, home to the second-largest economy on Earth, are vastly more dependent on oil imports from Persian Gulf nations than the United States is at this point.
Yes, the U.S. still imports oil from the Middle East, but a review of U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data shows just how those volumes have fallen in recent years. Imports from the Persian Gulf region most recently peaked in April, 2012 at more than 81 million barrels. In March of this year, the most recent month available, imports from the area had dropped to roughly 33 million barrels. That amounts to just about 5.5% of total oil consumption in the United States, down from 14% in 2012.
Over that same period of time, domestic oil production in the U.S. has ramped up from 7.3 million barrels of oil per day (bopd) to 12.3 million bopd. There is a very obvious cause and effect relationship here.
Looking back to the events following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the U.S. response at that time was shaped by two main drivers: Strategic national security interests and strategic energy interests. The U.S. was even more reliant on Persian Gulf oil then than it was in 2012, importing fully 1/6th of its daily consumption from that key area. Thus, while the Bush Administration felt the need to retaliate with great military force in various parts of the region, it had no choice but to also dedicate massive military resources to ensure the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz continued. A failure to do that would have had enormous negative impacts to the petroleum-based U.S. economy.
Today, things are much different. While U.S. refiners continue to import volumes of crude from the Middle East, that is more due to the continuance of contractual business arrangements than out of any real necessity. It would not take long, as an example, for those refiners to obtain their oil from other nations in the event of another oil embargo like those led by the Saudis and OPEC in the 1970s.
In other words, thanks to the domestic Shale Revolution, President Trump is correct when he states that “we don’t even need to be there,” at least from any strategic energy-related sense. From a national security standpoint, we would still rather dedicate a carrier group and other military assets to policing the region than turning the task over to China or Russia, both of which would quickly move to fill the vacuum if the U.S. abandoned that role.
That new reality is one of the main reasons why you’ve seen the President stick to non-violent means of responding to Iran’s ongoing provocations. Not so long ago, the U.S. response to this kind of incident might have been entirely different.
Fracking says, “You’re welcome, America.”
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