Insana: Energy Prices Are Soaring, But the Keystone Pipeline Wouldn't Have Helped Ease the Pressure

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

South Dakota governor, Kristi Noem, has been tweeting that we need to make America energy independent again.

She's criticizing President Joe Biden for halting the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, claiming that the loss of that pipeline is keeping America from being energy independent.

The pipeline was expected to carry some 830,000 barrels per day of oil from Canada to the U.S.

If only the halt of that project was the sole source of surging energy costs at home and abroad.

It's highly likely that energy prices will remain elevated for some time to come.

An array of drivers behind the price

Certainly at least until the war in Ukraine comes to an end, pandemic-related supply chain issues are resolved and both U.S. and non-U.S. producers pump and deliver considerably more energy products to a fossil-fueled world.

Hence, while energy stocks have been the best performing sector since 2021, they may continue to be for some time to come, especially those with solid dividends, clean balance sheets and with little or no exposure to Russia.

Having said that, let's rewind the videotape to 2014 when Saudi Arabia decided that America's resurgence as the world's largest energy producer eclipsed the kingdom's power in the oil-producing world.

The Saudis, even amid grumbling from other OPEC members, decided to flood the world market with oil and send crude prices from a 2014 peak of more than $100 per barrel to roughly $55 within a matter of months.

The Saudis – once the "swing producer" in the oil world – moved to regain that position and lost market share by making it too expensive for U.S. frackers to continue drilling for additional supplies.

Russia joined in the action by increasing its own output as the desire to disrupt U.S. shale production kicked in.

Still, U.S. production continued to grow all the way into 2020, when U.S. crude oil output reached a modern peak of more than 12 million barrels per day.

The U.S. was effectively in control of global energy supplies, supplanting Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer and Russia as the world's largest producer of natural gas.

Eventually, however, the combined surge of U.S., Saudi and Russian output led to a collapse in prices that would be further exacerbated by the emergence of Covid.

The onset of the pandemic in early 2020 further collapsed oil prices which, at one juncture in the futures market, plummeted below $0 per barrel.

As a result, the shale producers slashed output and delayed, or cancelled altogether, planned drilling projects.

Some firms went bankrupt and some merged. Others focused on returning capital to shareholders rather than take risks on new projects.

The recent spike in prices

Only recently, things have begun to change with oil surging above $100 per barrel as Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the continued looming threat of further sanctions against Moscow.

U.S. oil production has rebounded rather sharply of late, and output is expected to increase to 12 million barrels per day in 2022, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  

If one wants to be true to the facts and to history, blame the Saudis and the Russians for the decline in U.S. output, not the cancellation of a single project that, in the overall scheme of energy production, is a rounding error.

There is no doubt that current events, as they have since the 1970s, require a coherent national energy policy that strips the power away from America's enemies and puts our nation entirely in control of its energy future.

But let's place the blame where it belongs: with our enemies, not our leadership.

— Ron Insana is a CNBC contributor and a senior advisor at Schroders.

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