Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Achieving Energy Independence



I watched the State of the Union last night. I found the speech satisfactory, although little of what President Bush said could be considered groundbreaking. The one part of the speech that intrigued me was the President's reference to petroleum:

"Breakthroughs on [gasoline substitutes] and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on Middle Eastern oil a thing of the past."

At first I was quite pleased with the President's proposal, but now that I have read the SOTU text, I realize this is a rather modest goal. The United States actually imports only a small portion of its oil from the Middle East, receiving the lion's share from countries like Canada, Mexico, Nigeria, Venezuela and elsewhere, as illustrated in this table here. Therefore, reducing the imports of crude originating in the Middle East would not have a major impact on our economy. Furthermore, any disruption in the supply of Middle Eastern oil would still have a major impact on the worldwide price of crude (since other industrialized nations would be forced to seek oil imports elsewhere, increasing demand and driving up prices), thus negating any benefit to the President's proposal. Jerry Taylor of the Cato institute came to the same conclusion more eloquently in his analysis of energy policies in the State of the Union Address. I realize now that what I wanted to hear the President say was something along the line of:

"Breakthrough technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports by 2025. By applying the talent and technology of America, this country can dramatically improve our environment, move beyond a petroleum-based economy, and make our dependence on the foreign oil market a thing of the past."

Oil Independence is the type of policy goal that should find immense bipartisan support in America. Oil is a common denominator that systemically links numerous issues that Liberals and Conservatives strive to address. For liberals, dependence from oil would decrease environmental degradation (from both extracting as well as consuming oil) and ease the burden on the economically disadvantaged (who are subject to fluctuations in the price of petroleum products required for everyday living); for conservatives, American oil independence would take cold hard cash out of the hands of dictators, extremists, and otherwise belligerent governments (think Chavez, Ahmadinejad, et al), who use oil dollars to prop themselves up with a state security apparatus and threaten the West with with weapons and unrest. Also, decreasing energy costs will increase the revered bottom line in most business endeavors, increasing the wealth of shareholders and impacting down the line within our interconnected global economy.

So after a momentary feeling of excitement, I feel empty due to the tepid energy goals advanced in this year's SOTU. I remain hopeful that a politician somewhere, ANYWHERE, will make energy independence a key platform when running for office, or introduce earth shattering energy legislation sometime soon.

And yes, I want to do my part to achieve independence from foreign oil markets as well. I plan to continually blog about energy-related issues here, and attempt to keep people thinking, writing, and talking about it. More importantly, however, I am going to educate myself about energy policy. A confession is due at this point: I am fairly ignorant on matters relating to energy, and at this time I have no idea whatsoever how to reduce America's reliance on foreign oil. So for now I am going to do a little research and report my findings in a later posting.

I've identified two books to read so far: The End of Oil, by Paul Roberts; and Power Down, by Richard Heindberg.

And here is where a little help is in order, too. If you happen to pass by this blog and have some insight on energy issues, how about posting some comments and sharing them with my immense readership (thirteen unique individuals as of today!!!) If enough people exchange ideas here on this one particular issue, maybe this could achieve the effect of the butterfly flapping its wings. . .

Update: For more on energy, read Hooked on Oil, by Victor Davis Hanson.

No comments: