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U.S. report: Oil imports down, domestic production highest since 2003

By Neela Banerjee, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WASHINGTON — Against the backdrop of gasoline prices rising at the pump in an election year, a new Obama administration report cites “significant progress” in reducing foreign oil imports and increasing domestic oil and gas production.

The report by six federal agencies was released early Monday on the first anniversary of a speech by President Obama in which he pledged to reduce American dependence on foreign oil imports by one-third in about a decade.

According to the study, the United States reduced net imports of crude oil last year by 10 percent, or 1 million barrels a day. America now imports 45 percent of its petroleum, down from 57 percent in 2008, and is on track to meet Obama’s long-term goal, the administration maintains.

Imports have fallen, in part, because the United States has increased domestic oil and gas production in recent years.

U.S. crude oil production increased by an estimated 120,000 barrels a day last year over 2010, the report says. Current production, about 5.6 million barrels a day, is the highest since 2003.

America has been the world’s largest producer of natural gas since 2009. Use of renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, is still relatively small but has doubled since 2008.

The report credits administration policies for the improvements. It cites initiatives like the higher fuel efficiency of passenger cars, the jump in renewable energy output, and improved weatherization of 1 million homes.

But independent analysts attribute much of the fall in oil imports to slack U.S. demand in a still-anemic economy. And to a certain degree, the boost in domestic oil and gas production is the result of decisions energy companies made during the George W. Bush administration to develop key reservoirs.

The report, titled “The Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” appears aimed, at least in part, at tamping down political fire from Obama’s Republican rivals and other critics who say his administration has not done enough to fight higher gasoline prices.

“We’re experiencing yet another painful reminder of why developing new American energy is so critical to our future,” the report states. “We know that there are no quick fixes to this challenge.”

Domestic gasoline prices rise and fall with global crude oil prices, which have been driven up by the gradual economic recovery and by market jitters over mounting tensions with Iran, one of the world’s largest oil producers. The closing of several U.S. refineries also has pushed gas prices higher.

Most Americans are convinced that Obama and Congress could do more to reduce gasoline prices, according to a recent Gallup poll.

GOP candidates on the campaign trail and some oil industry leaders have charged that Obama’s energy policies stifle domestic production, and have urged the administration to open as much public land and offshore areas as possible to drilling.

More domestic drilling will not end the need for imports, however. The United States holds only 2 percent of the planet’s proven oil reserves, but Americans consume 25 percent of the world’s daily output of crude oil.

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