Reduce Western Oil Dependence
By Mike Wussow and Bruce Chapman
A Russian gas rig in Siberia. Russia currently produces over 9 million barrels of oil per day and has the world's largest proven reserves of natural gas, giving Moscow significant geopolitical clout
(Note: Some of the issues described in this post - particularly U.S. oil dependency and energy security - will be the focus of a major conference hosted jointly by Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center and Microsoft on September 4-5, 2008. Participants will include Anne Korin and James Woolsey, both of whom are also referenced in this post. Details are available here.)
The Russia-Georgia conflict brings uncomfortably to the surface the question of energy security. Like much of the rest of the world, America is addicted to oil, most of it now imported. We rely on petroleum to fuel just shy of 100 percent of our transportation. America imports from its neighbors, Canada and Mexico mainly, but almost as much from Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Nigeria. Russia supplies 762,000 barrels each day to the U.S. according to numbers released by the U.S. government in June.
Europe imports far more from Russia, of course. That has Europeans quaking in the aftermath of the war in Georgia and makes it difficult for NATO to speak with one voice.
It is hard to see how we will be able to work through the present crisis so long as the West seems irresolute about reducing its dependence on oil, especially oil from Russia. Even those of us who are optimistic that the long term interests of Russia and the West are reconcilable must face the fact that oil and gas pose a Western vulnerability in any negotiations.
A typical traffic jam in Moscow. With more Russians driving than ever before, in the years to come Russia may not be able to export much more oil than it does now, even if large oil and gas fields are developed in Siberia and in Russia's offshore Arctic waters (Photo by: English Russia)
Georgia has three major pipelines. Its two oil pipelines are capable of transporting millions of barrels of oil a day. BP felt threatened enough by the country's current hostilities that it suspended some operations earlier this week. And although unsubstantiated still, as was noted on Russia Blog, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal said Russian bombs hit one of the pipelines.
During the 110th Congress alone, more than 350 measures have been introduced related to energy efficiency and renewable energy. President Bush has cleared the path for the U.S. to tap its own off shore resources to fill in the gaps while other options are perfected and made more available. But energy action has been stalled by the Congress and half-measures are all that are being considered now, anyhow.
Off shore drilling is needed as a national policy, not just a state option, and both parties need to get realistic about drilling in ANWR. New drilling will take time, but deciding to do so would send an immediate signal of American seriousness about our security. Environmentalists at home should recognize that we are going to use oil for years to come, no matter what, so the real question is whose oil we use.
But everyone also should be able to agree that the government and private sectors should be increasing energy conservation to lower to overall use of oil. Perhaps the war clouds in Eastern Europe can spur us to take the dramatic efficiency efforts that have been obviously needed for years.
Among the best long-range collective options is the electrification of transportation through the use of innovative vehicle technology, including plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. It's an idea that is at last taking hold in addicted America, but it is still an unimplemented idea. (Discovery Institute has pushed the issue for years.)
According to the Set America Free Initiative, an alliance of security, environmental, labor and other groups promoting ways to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil, "If by 2025, all cars on the road are hybrids and half are plug-in hybrids, U.S. oil imports would drop by 8 million barrels per day." In 2006, according to the Initiative, the U.S. imported $309.4 billion in oil. At the very least, supporting the development and use of vehicles that, with the flip of a switch, dramatically reduce dependence on oil for transportation is perhaps the single best option America and Europe have for throwing off the yoke of oil dependence. Some, such as former U.S. Director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey, and Anne Korin, of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, say the key is for governments (the U.S. from in this case) to take steps that eventually diminish oil's status as a strategic commodity.
Although oil-dependent nations will be the charge for change, this issue is by no means only about America, which consumes 21 million barrels a day. Global consumption of oil, especially in fast-growing China and India is only expected to rise. Global demand is at about 86 million barrels a day and rising. And this does (or should) matter to Russia too; although it currently has all the oil it needs for itself and for export, many reports say that its production has already peaked.
Energy may not seem to be at the heart of the clash in Eastern Europe, but lowering the significance of the oil pipelines there--and elsewhere--is very much a factor in any increase in the prospects for peace. It wouldn't hurt our security situation in the Middle East either, would it?