U.S., Mexico and Canada Could Become Energy Independent

PHOTO:  The technique of hydraulic fracturing is used to increase or restore the rate at which fluids, such as petroleum, water, or natural gas can be recovered from subterranean natural reservoirs.

Just seven years after President George W. Bush lamented the United States' addiction to foreign oil, we are on the verge of energy independence. The United States and Canada are in the midst of a boom in oil and gas production at the same time that U.S. fuel consumption is falling. The result is turning energy markets on their heads.

Add to that the potential for energy reform in Mexico, which many believe would unleash a surge in exploration and production, and North America is positioned to become a global energy powerhouse.

U.S. oil production is at its highest level in 20 years, while its oil demand is at a 17-year low. According to a recent Citigroup report, in just five years the U.S. may no longer need to import oil from any source but Canada.

Driving the North American oil boom are technological innovation and increased investment. New production techniques like horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", have allowed producers to extract oil and gas from rock formations that were previously thought to be impenetrable. Oil and gas production has jumped in states like North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania, which together are producing 1.5 million barrels of oil a day. That total rivals the output of major producers like Venezuela, which is currently exporting around 1.6 million barrels per day.

What would North American energy independence actually mean?

In the most basic terms, the U.S. would no longer have to rely on importing oil from countries that are hostile to its interests. Continued increases in production would also decrease global prices which would reduce the power of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which includes top producers like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Venezuela.

According to Ed Morse, Citigroup's Head of Commodities Research, the average price of a barrel of oil could drop to the $70-$90 range (prices are currently around $95 per barrel, down from $112 per barrel in 2012).

The U.S. economy would be a clear winner. The boom has already resulted in lower natural gas prices, boosting U.S. industry and helping the economy rebound from the Great Recession. The reduced cost of oil would also benefit the non-oil producers in Central America and the Caribbean.

Mexico, meanwhile, is in a more precarious position. If it is able to better integrate itself in the U.S.-Canadian energy market and open up its state-run oil industry, it could reap the benefits of lower prices and increased investment. There are a lot of wells on the Mexican side of the Gulf of Mexico that are just waiting to be tapped.

On the other hand, Mexican oil exports to the U.S. are declining thanks to the increased U.S. production, and without significant investment in production and infrastructure such as pipelines, it will fail to capitalize on the U.S.-Canada boom.

In the Americas, the biggest loser would be Venezuela. Recent estimates suggest that the Venezuelan government needs oil prices of around $110 per barrel to balance its budget. If prices drop to the $70-$90 per barrel range, the new government would have to cut spending.

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