What will be the new thing in the oil and gas universe for 2012?

Adam E. Sieminski, chief energy economist for Deutsche Bank/Global Markets Commodities Research, ventures an answer to the question of what will be new in 2012 that, even from his point of view, is shocking.

“I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, because I’ve spent a career explaining to people patiently that we could never be energy-independent in the United States. It was impossible. We could be on our way to gas independence. We’re still getting a lot of gas from Canada, but if you start netting out what we’re going to export in LNG and against what we’re going to import from Canada, that can be pretty close. So we can be gas-independent,” he said at Deloitte's 2011 oil and gas conference on Dec. 15 in Houston.

“But oil? Impossible. We’re consuming 19 billion barrels per day and we’re exporting 8.0 [billion barrels per day], so how can it even be possible? I’ve spent years writing what I call ‘smart papers’ explaining why this could never happen. I do remember a little bit of Latin from my schooling. Mea culpa, mea culpa. My fault -- I’m sorry. It is possible.”

How does the United States get to the point where it is energy-independent?

The nation is becoming more efficient in its consumption of fuels, particularly oil, for transportation, Sieminski said, adding that auto fleets are beginning to shift to biofuels and, in some cases, electricity.

He pointed out that the use of liquefied natural gas as a vehicle fuel could help diminish oil consumption. “So instead of burning 19 million barrels a day of oil maybe we could get down to 15 million barrels,” Sieminski said.

“In the meantime, that Bakken oil is coming on, and the Bakken clones -- all of those other places -- are growing oil production in the U.S. The National Petroleum Council said, if you put Canada and the U.S. together, that by 2020 to 2025 we would be producing 22 million barrels of oil a day, and that’s going to be more than the consumption of Canada and the U.S.”

Sieminski said he is not entirely convinced that the U.S. could reach energy independence sometime in the 2020s. He expects that the U.S. will still need 3.0 to 4.0 million barrels of imported oil per day, but nowhere close to the 16 million it currently demands.

Reviewing figures about the percentage of oil imports that the U.S. has relied on during the last 40 years, Sieminski made the following observations: The lowest number was in the early 1980s at 27%. The highest it’s ever been was in 2005 at 65%. Now, the U.S. is down to 46%.

“My guess is that during the next five years that number could easily be close to 30%. If we play the policy game right, the drop in those oil import numbers could be big, big, big,” he said.

“We’re transforming the finance industry in the U.S. at the same time. We’ve got spare refining capacity at a lot of places in the U.S., and there’s a demand for products globally. We may end up being an exporter. We are already a net exporter of oil products. We may end up with a situation in which the U.S. is only importing oil to re-export it to the rest of the world in the form of profits.”

In conclusion, Sieminski sees energy independence as a significant opportunity to lower the trade deficit, create jobs and boost the economy. “I think that’s the direction we’re headed,” he said.

Contact the author, Mike Madere, at mmadere@hartenergy.com.