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What is Outlook for US Dependence on Mideast Oil? - 2002-04-18

The industrialized world is gradually growing less dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Oil analysts expect that dependence to erode further in the years ahead.

Almost 49 percent of U.S. oil imports come from the western hemisphere, compared to 35 percent in 1980. Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela have moved ahead of Saudi Arabia as top exporters to the United States.

In addition, oil market analyst James Smith said new technologies have increased global oil supplies by enabling explorers to locate and retrieve oil buried thousands of kilometers below ocean floors.

"The major technology that has affected the trade patterns in oil is the technology that has opened up the deep-water portions of the continental shelf. We are able to get out and exploit deposits that were unthinkable 30 years ago," Mr. Smith said.

And on the horizon, energy expert Alan Struth said, is a technology that converts natural gas reserves into a liquid form to compete with oil.

Mr. Struth said the converted natural gas does not need to be transported through pipelines and can be moved more easily from one continent to another.

"So there is a good market opportunity there from a demand standpoint. The question is what the capital costs are and what kind of returns you can get, so there are some questions, but some of the companies are going ahead with these projects," Mr. Struth said.

The gas-to-liquid oil technology is being examined closely, James Smith said, because so many countries have natural gas and are looking for markets.

"Our own North Alaskan slope holds a lot of gas that we simply can not figure out how to get to market because the pipeline option is too expensive," Mr. Smith said.

He said so many natural gas fields have been found in so many parts of the world, the ability to convert gas to oil could revolutionize the global market.

"This is an alternative that almost would cut OPEC's power in half, relative to what it has in market share today. And these new competitors are spread around the globe. Russia has enormous gas reserves, Norway in the far North Sea, the United States in Alaska, some of the South American producers," he said.

But Mr. Smith cautions that large-scale use of the gas-to-fuel technology is still a long way off.