In the past year, the United States has imposed new sanctions on Iran meant to cripple the country over its nuclear program. Some of the measures have targeted the country’s oil exports, long the lifeblood of its economy. Iran, in defiance, has said it would begin to enrich uranium at higher levels as soon as Sunday. If tensions persist, disruptions along the strait, where the shipping channel is barely two miles wide, could be felt in India, China and dozens of other countries that buy Middle Eastern oil in large quantities.
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.