How dependent is the USA on Middle-East oil?

Say things go bandy in Iraq and Saudi and Anti-Western forces take over, have they got the West and the US in particular by the curlys?

How well are American oil supplies going to hold up in future, say 10 or 20 years down the line?

Define “dependent”.
I read an article about this subject a while back, and it stated that while the US has large reserves, much of it isn’t the “sweet” crude that refiners prefer. As long as they can get the stuff from the ME, at an affordable price, they will. I work for a large oil company, a major customer of Saudi oil, and that is pretty much what they say too. A majority of crude refined here is domestic, or at least not ME, but I don’t remember the figure. 80% ?
We’re spoiled by unlimited supplies of cheap gasoline. Everything else, for that matter. :wink:

Well I suppose “how dependent" means “how much will the economy hurt”

Plus I’d like to know how much oil is left in the US reserves.
As long as I remember I’ve heard doomsayers predicting the wells would run dry soon - but new reserves kept being found.
What worries me is that now it seems the oil industry itself is saying that no significant new fields will be found (no, I don’t have a cite - which is why I’m asking the OP question).
As I understand it, the “worked-out” fields still have something like 60% still left in them - but it would be be much more expensive to recover, presumably putting up the price of oil significantly.

I’d just like to get some real figures, lots of people make sweeping claims like “the war is just about oil”, or “let’s just pull out of Iraq/the middle-east and leave them to it” - I just don’t see the numbers being produced to back up such stances

A year or so ago, the Scientific American had an article that predicted that the world’s oil production would peak around 2008. The person who made the prediction is the same one who predicted in the mid 60s that the US oil production would peak in 1974. Most of the experts said he was nuts, since his prediction was based on analysis of trend lines, but it was dead on; US oil production did peak around 1973 or 74. Recall the effect of the OPEC price rise in 1973. US consumption has not gone down in the last 30 years.

Now it is true that a lot of the US oil wells are not actually exhausted but rather too expensive to exploit. Also, there are the tar sands of Alberta. I have read that the heat required to extract oil from the tar sands uses 3/4 of the extracted oil. So it is easy to see why that is a kind of last resort, since it means that there will be 4 times as much greenhouse gas created as with conventional oil. But all this does not change the fact that prices will have to rise. You can imagine the screams this will create from all those SUV owners.

The economic effects of all this are hard to predict, but the 1973 oil shock was followed by a massive recession. Cause and effect? Who knows? But (and I apologize in advance if this statement is deemed too political for GQ, but I gotta make it) any responsible government would realize that there is more to national security than stopping terrorists and would be investing a lot more into both conservation and alternative energy sources.

Just as an aside, in 1972, Canada was lobbying Washington intensively to allow the export of more oil to the US and the US resisted at the behest of US Oil. Finally, they said that they would permit more oil if Canada agreed to export water. Canada said thanks, but no thanks, we will keep our water and our oil too. Then came 1973 and boy did that scene change!

The surprising good news is that we get only about 10% of our oil from the ME.

The bad news is that oil is traded on a world market. That means that if the ME decided to jack up prices or choke their supply the nations who heavily depend on ME oil would seek the non-ME suppliers that sell to the US. That would siphon off our supply and drive up prices here. So even though we use little ME oil we are not immune to the market forces it influences.

EIA.DOE.GOV Quickstats

2002 Figures:

U.S. Crude Oil Production - 5,746,000 Barrels / Day
U.S. Crude Oil Imports - 9,140,000 Barrels / Day
U.S. Crude Oil Imports from OPEC - 4,083,000 Barrels / Day
Top U.S. Crude Oil Supplier - Saudi Arabia - 1,519,000 Barrels / Day
U.S. Petroleum Product Imports - 2,390,000 Barrels / Day
U.S. Petroleum Product Imports from OPEC - 522,000 Barrels / Day
Top U.S. Total Petroleum Supplier - Canada - 1,971,000 Barrels / Day
U.S. Total Petroleum Exports - 975,000 Barrels / Day
U.S. Net Petroleum Imports - 10,546,000 Barrels / Day
U.S. Petroleum Consumption - 19,761,000 Barrels / Day
OPEC Membership - The current Members are Algeria, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela. (Source:

How is it that we consume (19.7 MM bpd) more than we produce (5.7 MMbpd) and import (net 10.5 MM bpd)?

The most probable of the “It’s about the oil” theories involve only securing a supply, not actually ‘taking’ the oil.

I think that anytheory that says the war is only about any one things is bunk. Like most endeavors of this magnitude a variety of motives and opportunites coalesced.

Well, if push really came to shove, we could always switch our power plants over to nuclear, like France did during the energy crisis. (Hey, wait a minute…)

Of course, that’d probably be unneccesary. I seem to recall that most of U.S. power plants run off of coal burning, anyway. And I think we have plenty of Coal.

Hell, we could make synthetic gasoline from coal, like the Germans and South Africans did. It’d be pricey, but at least we wouldn’t end up in a “Road Warrior” situation.

There are many available sources of fuel. It’s just that gasoline, refined from crude oil, is the easiest and the cheapest. At least that’s what “they” say.

Do we import any oil from Iran? That is the most hostile regime right? Since the ME has nothing but Oil to sell eventually the must sell it right?

Er MarkXXX I you have it the wrong way round. It is the US government that is the most hostile regime towards Iran, not necessarily the other way around!

The posters that observe that the oil market is a true world market are bang on the ticket. Who actually supplies whom is a short term dynamic, for instance West Africa is now one of the major exporters to the US but was nowhere a couple of decades ago. It is just a question of shipping costs plus the correct mix specific gravities (the thickness of the crude) of feedstock for the refineries that govern where you buy from.

ME crude goes to Asia-Pacific and Japan, and Europe - as MarkXXX says - it all goes somewhere and equally effects the world crude benchmark prices.

To get back to the OP, as the world needs ME oil then the USA needs ME oil, irrespective of your current suppliers.

About 50-55% of electrical generation is from coal in the US. Oil makes up about 2-3%, and thus is mostly used for transport fuel and petrochemicals.

mangeorge has it right - there are many, many, many ways to make sweet, wonderful, horsepower-producing gasoline. It’s just a matter of how much can you spend. Synthesis from coal is not one of the best/cheapest ways to make gasoline (I think the methane->methanol->gasoline route is the cheapest, but I’m sure someone will correct me), but it does work.