State Dept. official: US oil boom won’t sap focus on Middle East stability

HOUSTON – The U.S. oil-and-gas boom will not lessen the Obama administration’s diplomatic focus on the Middle East even as reliance on imports is declining, a senior State Department official said Tuesday.

“These changes in no way change the U.S. commitment to global security, to peace and stability in the Middle East, and to security in transit lanes,” said Carlos Pascual, State’s coordinator for international energy affairs, at a major energy conference here.

The domestic boom doesn’t un-tether the U.S. from global energy markets, he said.

“It is absolutely in our self-interest to stay engaged. Oil is a global commodity. Gas is increasingly becoming a global commodity. Instability in the Middle East, in Africa, in other parts of the world, instability in transit lanes, immediately have an impact on global prices,” Pascual said at the IHS CERAWeek conference.

U.S. oil production is at a 20-year high and, alongside increased energy efficiency, has helped to sharply drive down imports.

Imports of crude oil and other liquids combined peaked at more than 60 percent of U.S. consumption in 2005, but fell to an average of 40 percent in 2012, according to a federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) report in February.

“EIA expects the net import share to fall to 32 percent in 2014 because of continued substantial increases in domestic crude oil production,” said EIA, the Energy Department’s statistical arm.

U.S. natural gas production is at record highs.

But Pascual said that the energy boom doesn’t insulate the U.S. from the effects of global energy trends.

He noted projections of future energy demand in countries including China, India and Brazil.

“We have to be concerned about how those countries are going to meet their supply-demand energy balance within their economies, because if we don’t, the impacts are going to be felt here at home,” Pascual said.