In the past two decades, oil consumption has exploded in countries like China and India, where expanding middle classes have driven large-scale economic growth. China’s demand for oil has nearly tripled over that period. During that time, the United States has remained the world’s biggest consumer of oil, going through tens of millions of barrels a day. A recent shale-drilling boom in the United States has caused the production of oil and gas in the country to skyrocket, making America less dependent on imports and allowing it to reclaim its role as a leader in the global energy industry. Oil production in the United States grew an extraordinary 17 percent last year.
Twenty percent of the global oil supply flows through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow stretch of water that separates Persian Gulf countries like Iran, Iraq and Kuwait from the rest of the world. From May 15 to June 15, more than 1,000 tanker ships traveled the strait. Many were destined for places as far away as China and South Korea. The gulf region has been rocked by instability in recent months, threatening the flow of oil through the strait. Six tankers have been attacked since May amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States.