Yet Anne Korin, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and the co-author of a new report on energy independence, believes people are misinterpreting the concept of secure domestic energy. In her view, the emphasis on imports is a function of the lingering "trauma" of the 1973 embargo and misses the larger point.
"Security means stability and affordability of oil," Korin said in an interview. "We've done well on the stability but not on the affordability side of the ledger. … We're still paying more at the pump."
(Read more: US gas prices slide as summer's end, supply brings relief)
She said the "virtual monopoly" oil enjoys over U.S. motor vehicles means gasoline prices won't dip appreciably—especially because distillates, including diesel fuel, are still based on the price of Brent, the international oil benchmark.
That means that, despite America's best-laid plans, the country could still find itself squeezed by an unexpected tantrum by OPEC, or deeper instability in places like Libya, Egypt and Iraq.
"The fact is you have this cartel that sits on three-fourths of conventional oil reserves," Korin said, arguing that OPEC is still stingy with its oil production as the U.S. ramps up its own.
The oil cartel, which supplies more than a third of the world's oil, currently maintains an output target of 30 million barrels a day. That has kept oil prices comfortably near $100 a barrel for much of the year and helped keep the average price of gasoline above $3 a gallon.
"When we drill more, they can simply drill less," Korin said. "The fact is they're not producing to the level that they potentially could, and that's why prices are so high."
—By CNBC's Javier E. David