By Chadwick Hagan
The United States is a big country with lots and lots of natural resources, but our energy independence is complicated.
For instance, with oil, it was a much different story 140 years ago. Official numbers vary, but in 1880 the United States was responsible for 85–95 percent of world oil production and refining. John D. Rockefeller was the undisputed oil king and during this time the New York World called his company, Standard Oil, “the most cruel, impudent, pitiless, and grasping monopoly that ever fastened upon a country.” Standard Oil’s grip on oil lasted until 1906, when the U.S. government sued to break up the concern citing the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890.
In 1914 the United States imported oil from Mexico due to shortages from the first World War; then between 1943 and 1950 the United States became a net importer of oil. This was largely due to the strain on energy commodities from two world wars and the ever-growing automobile industry.
Fast forward to 1960 and the United States finds itself competing with the newly formed OPEC, which at the time consisted of about 80 percent of global crude exports.
However, since 2018 the United States has reclaimed its energy dominance, largely from fracking. In 2020 America became the largest exporter of refined oil products (though it was still importing crude oil). Regardless, the last 100-plus years have been quite a ride for oil, gas, and natural gas.
An article this year from The Atlantic states, “Since 2018, the United States has been the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. On paper, ‘we are energy independent,’ John Hess, the CEO of Hess, said yesterday at CERAWeek, the energy industry’s annual conference. But what a funny kind of independence it is. As he spoke, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed U.S. gas prices to more than $4.10 a gallon, setting a new all-time high. Energy independence has neither insulated the economy from geopolitics nor provided the U.S. with more industrial capacity in an emergency.”
Oil, gas, and natural gas are fine and well, but what about the future of energy? What about the future of energy in the United States?
Renewables, such as wind and solar, recently hit an all-time high of 28 percent. According to USA Today, “the percentage of U.S. electricity produced by renewable energy from wind, solar and hydroelectric dams has been steadily rising, from 8.6% in April 2001 to this April’s 28%.“ However, for renewables—oil, gas, and nuclear aside—a lot of the future of energy rides on lithium-ion batteries.
To quote Simon Moores, CEO of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, “the energy revolution is here and it’s called the lithium ion battery. Used in everything from medical devices, mobile phones, laptops, electric vehicles and power tools; the majority of supply exists abroad.“
Simon is right, we are in a new economy with new energy needs and it is not just smartphones and computers. Recently, Chinese automaker BYD, which makes EVs and hybrids, recently surpassed Tesla in electric vehicle sales. Moreover, Stellantis, the global automaker of Jeep, Maserati, and Chrysler, has invested in Australian lithium miner Vulcan Energy Resources. Stellantis paid $76 million for an eight percent stake in Vulcan.
The United States is the world’s largest oil producer, the world’s largest natural gas producer, and the world’s third-largest coal producer. At this juncture the United States can either maintain its energy status quo, which entails a mix of importing oil and devoting energy to produce energy products domestically (refining, natural gas, etc.); or it can focus on developing a robust energy security program while developing worthwhile international energy sources and partnerships.
But that won’t help us with raw materials to make lithium-ion batteries.
As I stated earlier this year, “China controls 80 percent of all battery cell manufacturing capacity and with capacity only expected to increase—in fact, it’s expected to double to more than two terawatt-hours—China will have enough capacity for more than 20 million electric vehicles (EV) within five years.”
It is obvious that the United States needs a robust energy policy for the future, one in which the United States emerges as a domestic and international leader in fossil, renewable, battery power, and energy research and development.
For the next few decades, the supply of raw materials for lithium-ion batteries is king. America had best get ahead of the curve so as not to lose the race, or we stand the risk of becoming embroiled in another energy economics fiasco.