There's a lot of speculation and discussion in the media around the possibility of the United States being oil independent by 2020. Although no one knows for sure what will happen eight years from now, a few good indicators can show us what we know won't change if the U.S. produces all of its own oil. Let's take a look.
1. Gas prices won't go down
Unfortunately, we can't expect the price of gas to plummet just because we're pumping it out of our own land. Kodiak Oil & Gas (NYSE: KOG) is selling over 15,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day , up 300% from 2011. Companies like Kodiak are boosting U.S. oil production rates to levels we haven't seen in 15 years. But even this massive production won't drive down U.S. gasoline prices. That's because oil and refined product prices are determined globally, not domestically.
The influx of oil in the U.S. has caused the price of Western Texas Intermediate, the U.S. oil benchmark, to fall against Brent crude, the global benchmark. With West Texas Intermediate now about $25 cheaper per barrel than Brent, countries around the world are buying up refined products from the U.S., like gasoline and diesel. This leads companies like Valero (NYSE:VLO), the world's largest oil refiner, to send its refined products from the Midwest to the Gulf of Mexico for export to the global market. Our gas prices won't go down when there's global demand for the same product.
2. U.S. foreign policy will still care about the Middle East
This year, about 18 million barrels of oil pass through the Strait of Hormuz every day. By 2035, 25 million barrels of oil will pass through there every day – 50% of the global oil trade. The area has been a historical place of tension, and with the current U.S. and European sanctions on Iran, it's also an area Iran has threatened to close off completely. If there's a blockage of oil coming out of the strait for a few months, it could cripple the economies of India, China, and Japan – a scenario that could spawn a global recession.
The U.S. government still considers this region an important political territory where energy's concerned, and having our own oil won't change that. David L. Goldwyn, a former State Department coordinator for international energy affairs in the Obama administration told The New York Times: "The rise in domestic production will not diminish in any way the need for the U.S. to retain global reach, particularly in the Middle East."
3. Alternative energy will continue to grow
The same International Energy Agency report that says the U.S. will be oil-independent by 2020 also predicts that worldwide renewable energy will continue to grow. In fact, the report expects renewables to account for one-third of global energy by 2035. Renewables are still very dependent on subsidies, which are expected to increase in the coming decades. In 2011, worldwide renewable subsidies totaled $88 billion. That number will need to rise to $240 billion by 2035 for renewables to power one-third of the planet. An increase in U.S. oil won't change the rising global demand for crude, either. China and India's thirst for more oil may drive future oil prices higher, making renewables a competitively priced alternative.
Renewables aren't the only energy source that's growing despite the boom though; natural gas production is on the rise as well. The U.S. is expected to overtake Russia as the leading producer of natural gas by 2015. Although oil is the dominant form of transportation energy, some companies are looking to natural gas as the future for vehicles.
Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ:CLNE), the leading provider of natural gas for vehicle fleets, is betting big on natural gas by building a nationwide infrastructure of natural gas fill-up stations, which it dubs the "Natural Gas Highway." The company purchased two MicroLNG mobile units from General Electric (NYSE:GE) that can quickly liquefy natural gas for sale at the fill-up stations. GE's MicroLNG units can convert up to 1 million gallons of LNG per day, and Clean Energy will have them up and running by 2015, with plans to buy more plants from GE in the future.
Right now, natural gas is about $1.50 cheaper than an equivalent gallon of diesel. Large engine manufacturers like Cummins, Peterbilt, and Navistar are building natural gas engines, and Navistar expects one in three of its engines to run on natural gas in the next few years.
A Foolish future
One report by an international agency obviously doesn't mean that U.S. and global energy trends will follow the report's findings. But it does give investors a sneak peek into areas that could be profitable in the near future. Oil production is expected to rise 12% in the U.S. this year and 8% next year, which has helped some oil companies see significant gains right now. Kodiak Oil's revenues rose 280% year over year in its most recent quarter, and oil refining company HollyFrontier's (NYSE:HFC) earnings are up 149% year over year. HollyFrontier's stock is also sitting 78% higher than it was this time last year.
Foolish investors who aren't into oil stocks don't need to miss out on energy trends, though. Clean Energy Fuels increased revenue in Q3 by 27% year over year, and is making big strides with its natural gas fill-up stations across the country. The company needs natural gas prices to stay low and natural gas vehicle fleet adoption rates to increase, but with large engine manufacturing companies on board, it's laying a strong foundation for its natural gas endeavors.