Energy independence is a complex concept that is often reduced to a very simple calculation. Daily oil production 20 million barrels, daily oil consumption 19.9 million barrels, result: independence.

On that measure, the U.S. appears to have achieved the goal of energy independence pursued by presidents since Richard Nixon. Its net imports of petroleum and related liquids are on course to average about 620,000 barrels per day (bbl/d) this year, just 3% of total consumption, according to the government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA). Next year, the balance is expected to show a small surplus.

Yet that simple accounting for a nation’s energy security obscures some important details, and what seems like independence may be nothing of the kind. In the past decade, energy security has plunged down the political agenda in the U.S. as a result of the shale revolution. In the next decade, it could re-emerge.

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