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PolitiFact: Hillary Clinton's claim that U.S. is energy independent goes too far

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally at Frontline Outreach and Youth Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016.

LOREN ELLIOTT | Times

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally at Frontline Outreach and Youth Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016.

The statement

"We are now, for the first time ever, energy independent."

Hillary Clinton, in the second presidential debate

The ruling

If the United States used only foreign energy sources, it would clearly be energy dependent. And if it used only domestic energy sources, it would clearly be energy independent. On this spectrum, the United States is definitely closer to independence than dependence, and getting closer every year. But it's not at full energy independence yet.

The United States still consumes about 11 percent more energy than it produces, so it has to import from other nations to meet that need.

In 2015, the United States produced 87.9 quadrillion BTUs of energy and used 97.3 quadrillion BTUs, according to the Energy Information Administration, an office of the federal government. The United States imported about 11 quadrillion more BTUs of energy than it exported in 2015.

This means "the U.S. is not energy independent," said Kenneth Medlock, senior director of the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University.

That said, imports have been trending down significantly since the mid 2000s. The EIA has projected that the United States will switch from a net importer of energy to a net exporter sometime between 2020 and 2030.

"The U.S. is not currently energy independent and, while it is moving toward energy independence, it is not expected to be so for about a decade," said Paul Holtberg, leader of the EIA's Analysis Integration Team.

This shift is happening because of changes in both supply and demand. Domestic natural gas and oil production has skyrocketed since hydraulic fracturing, the extraction method known as fracking, came into regular use in the late 2000s. At the same time, Americans are using less energy as a result of growing efficiency.

Going by net imports versus net exports, the United States is currently a larger net importer than it was from the 1950s (as far back as the EIA data goes) through the 1970s, and again in the mid 1980s. So current net import levels are not unprecedented.

When people think of energy independence, they often think of oil because it's the one source of energy that the United States has historically imported from potentially unstable areas. While the United States is essentially self-sufficient as it pertains to coal, natural gas and renewable energy sources, it still imports about 24 percent of its oil needs, even with the increase in fracking.

Even so, Marilyn Brown, a professor of sustainable systems at Georgia Institute of Technology, told PolitiFact that she thinks the United States is energy independent because it could meet its oil needs from a friendly country, like Mexico or Canada, if the oil market in one of its other top supplier countries became unstable.

North America as a whole is arguably energy independent, in that it produces all the energy it consumes on a net basis, several experts pointed out.

Clinton's statement is not accurate and we rate it False.

Edited for print. Read the full version at PolitiFact.com.

PolitiFact: Hillary Clinton's claim that U.S. is energy independent goes too far 10/14/16 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2016 5:17pm]
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