There are at several factors to consider when evaluating dependence on foreign oil. The first is actual consumption-exactly how much oil does America use? The answer, according to NationMaster.com
, is more than 20 million barrels a day. That's more than three times the second-place consumer, China, and about a quarter of the world's total consumption. America is very much dependent on foreign oil in that it uses a lot of it. We should remember that America is a pretty big country, however, with a relatively large populous. The U.S. ranks Number 17 in per capita oil consumption, but the fact still remains that our way of life depends heavily on that steady stream of oil from overseas. America imports 10.4 million barrels of oil a day, coming in at Number 6 in per capita oil imports.
Another important factor of foreign oil dependence is domestic oil production. The U.S. is actually the third-largest oil producer in the world, coming in behind Saudi Arabia and Russia. We crank out more than 7 million barrels of oil a day. While it certainly isn't enough to keep up with consumption, it places us in a considerably better position than many industrialized nations. I'm not sure if you intended to exclude countries like China and Japan from the sample by stipulating "westernized" nations, but I will include them anyway because of their strong presence in the global market. Japan has one of the worst-case scenarios in the event of a foreign oil crisis. Japan imports virtually all of its oil because of its high oil consumption (#3) and its low oil production (almost negligible). Russia, on the other hand, is in a much better position than almost any other industrialized country, since it produces much more oil than it consumes, selling much of it to Europe or China. The U.S. lies somewhere in between Japan and Russia, since it needs to import oil but at least has some domestic oil production. We are better off than many countries, such as China or India or much of Europe, because a higher percentage of our oil comes from domestic sources.
In the final analysis of American dependence on foreign oil, there are a few things to consider. First, if there were to be a true shock to the system (not that little hiccup after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita), our way of life would get very expensive very quickly. The U.S. has untapped oil reserves in places like Alaska and off the coast of Florida, but it is still cheaper to buy oil from Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Venezuela than invest billions of dollars in our domestic supplies. In a short-term view (a time frame of about 15 years or so), we are very dependent on foreign oil. However, in the long run, the U.S. is capable of adapting to an energy crisis through both domestic oil investment and infrastructure changes. If the price of oil rose high enough, public transit would start looking pretty good to most people. And while more than 70% of electricity in the U.S. is produced from fossil fuels, an energy crisis could make a shift over to alternatives such as nuclear energy. With a renewed interest in developing alternative energy sources, we may see new developments in the coming decades that may change some of these underlying assumptions. But I think it is safe to say that we are quite dependent on foreign oil now, but could wean ourselves of the addiction within a generation if we had to.
For more information on the topic, check out the CIA World Factbook
entry on oil consumption and NationMaster.com's Energy
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