U.S. presidents have promoted the idea of American "energy independence" for decades as a solution to the geopolitical issues that led to volatile energy prices — meaning the U.S. would produce enough energy to supply itself without having to rely on foreign exports.
President Trump has scrapped that line in favor of what he calls "energy dominance." In Trump's vision, the U.S. should become a net exporter of energy and use those resources as a vehicle for economic growth. His plan for "energy dominance" also means using the country's resource — particularly liquified natural gas, or LNG — as a bargaining chip in the international arena to provide energy security to allies. "Our country is blessed with extraordinary energy abundance," Trump said at a speech at the Department of Energy Thursday. "These energy exports will create countless jobs for our people, and provide true energy security."
Key to "energy dominance," in Trump's view, are a slew of initiatives aimed at speeding up production of oil, natural gas and coal, all of which Trump has made centerpieces of his presidency. Trump has described his policies as a dramatic shift in direction from the Obama years, described on Thursday as "eight years of hell" that included "massive job-killing barriers to American energy development." Trump cited his lifting of a moratorium on a new coal leasing on federal land, withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change and targeting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations as key moves to make that shift.
Oil, gas and coal interest groups have praised most of Trump's moves as significant boons to their industry. But the U.S. has experienced an energy renaissance of sorts in the past decade thanks largely to an oil and gas boom that followed advances in hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking. At the same time, coal production has declined as it struggled to compete with the price of natural gas and renewables. President Obama helped foster some oil and gas development, approving crude oil exports and simplifying the process of exporting LNG, while also implementing regulation like rules on methane emissions and targeting projects like the Keystone XL pipeline.
Indeed, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted in January before Trump's inauguration that the U.S. would become a net energy exporter by 2026. "Yes, the U.S. could be completely, I think the phrase used at one time was energy independent," said EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski in a press conference.
Trump's new measures — announced Thursday as part of Energy Week — are relatively modest and unlikely to reshape significantly current industry dynamics even if they do contribute to the bottomline of some energy companies. In his speech, Trump said the U.S. would approve an additional natural gas terminal, opening of some offshore drilling and a new oil pipeline to Mexico.
The current administration has also touted the role LNG exports can play in relations around the world. More robust distribution of U.S. natural gas can help protect allies from reliance on Russia, administration officials said this week. "We are in a position to be able to clearly create a hell of a lot more friends by being able to deliver to them energy," said Energy Secretary Rick Perry before Trumps remarks. "And not being held hostage by some countries, Russia in particular."