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U.S. Predicted To Be Net Energy Exporter In Next Decade; First Time Since 1950s

The U.S. will reach a new balance in energy trade "sometime between 2020 and 2030," says the Energy Information Administration, which predicts the U.S. could become a net energy exporter in the near future.

The federal agency's prediction cites a rise in domestic natural gas production and changes in energy demands. If it happens, the shift would end a streak of more than 50 years in which the U.S. has been a net importer of energy.

"The United States is currently an exporter of petroleum products and coal, but an importer of natural gas and crude oil," the Department of Energy agency says in its annual report that predicts America's energy future.

Rising efficiency and "green" energy sources are among the factors that would help shift the balance.

NPR's Christopher Joyce reports for our Newscast unit:

"Energy for electricity will increasingly come from natural gas and renewables. EIA says solar and wind power provide about 6 percent of the country's electricity now and will rise to 9 percent in the next five years.

"By 2040, that percentage should rise to 12 percent of electricity. If hydropower is added to the mix, renewables should reach almost 20 percent of the country's electricity supply in the next 25 years."

The report mentions possible scenarios that could quicken or slow U.S. progress toward being a net energy exporter. A key variable is the price of oil and gas: If prices are high, the U.S. could become a net exporter of energy as soon as 2019, the report says. But if they're low, the timeline extends to 2040.

"In all cases, the United States transitions from a net importer of natural gas to a net exporter in 2017," the EIA says. "These natural gas exports are mostly sent by pipeline to Mexico or in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to other countries."

The growth in natural gas is linked to a continuing shale boom — and the large Marcellus and Utica shale beds that lie in Ohio, Pennsylvania and neighboring areas.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.