Trump wrong on U.S. exporting energy


In a 75-minute rally speech that revisited his response to the Charlottesville, Va., unrest and scolded the national media, President Donald Trump slid in a note of pride about the United States’ balance of trade in energy.

Was he correct about the United States being an energy exporter?

Short answer: No.

But to get to the short answer, you have to wade through several possible interpretations of what Trump meant. (The White House did not clarify his meaning for us.)

One way to read Trump’s statement is to take it to mean the United States only recently began to export energy. This is flat wrong.

“We have been exporting coal, natural gas, electricity, refined products and energy technologies for a very long time,” said Paul Sullivan, a professor at National Defense University and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University who specializes in energy security issues. “We were once, during the time of J.D. Rockefeller, the world’s near monopoly on kerosene. Liquefied natural gas exports from Alaska to Japan have been around for a long time. Piped gas to Mexico and Canada are normal events. We have a massive electricity trade with Canada.”

Trump might have meant that the United States had only recently become a net exporter of energy — meaning the total of all U.S. energy exports recently overtook the total of all U.S. energy imports. This is less wrong, but still not accurate.

In its most recent projections, the federal Energy Information Administration concluded that the United States would become a net energy exporter around 2026, depending on future patterns of global supply, demand and pricing.

What’s clear is that the United States has not yet become a net exporter of energy. If that day comes in 2026 it would be two years after Trump finishes a possible second term.

Perhaps rather than “energy,” Trump meant to say “crude oil.”

The statement would still be problematic. It wouldn’t be the first time. And the relevant change was signed under his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

On Dec. 18, 2015, the United States enacted legislation to repeal a ban on most crude-oil exports that had been in place since the energy-crisis days of 1975. (Exports of refined petroleum were not blocked by the law, just crude.)

It’s possible to substitute any number of energy subcategories into Trump’s remark to see whether they make the statement more accurate. Some do, some don’t.

The United States has been a net coal exporter for many years. It has been a net exporter of refined petroleum products since around 2011. So neither of those would make Trump correct.

The United States is not yet a net exporter of natural gas, but the difference between imports and exports has narrowed for nine consecutive years, according to EIA, falling to its smallest gap ever in 2016. And the agency projects that the United States will become a net exporter of natural gas once the 2017 numbers are tallied up.

Our ruling

Trump said that “we have become an energy exporter for the first time ever just recently.”

This statement is problematic regardless of how you interpret his statement: gross energy exports, net energy exports, gross crude-oil exports, and net natural gas exports. The closest he would come to being accurate is if he were referring to net natural gas exports, but even there, it hasn’t happened yet, contrary to what his past-tense statement indicates. We rate the statement False.


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