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Can we stop talking about energy independence now?

November 13, 2012 1 comment

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I can’t help but remember how many times I  heard “energy independence” during this last election cycle. Romney seemed to mention it more during the debates, but Obama seemed to use it just as much campaigning. Politicians going back as far as the Nixon era seem to love ‘energy independence’.  It seems when politicians tout energy independence they actually mean the following:  depending upon other potentially volatile countries for oil. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the US utilizing more of its resources and planning for a future without fossil fuels. However used as  nothing more than broken campaign promises to get elected is not the way to do it.

I’ve seen ‘energy independence’ as little more than a fear-inspiring campaign trick. This campaign trick fails to take a few very important considerations into account (there are more considerations, but I’ve narrowed it to what I see as important):

  1. The US is involved in a global economy. Having the government selectively interfere with portions of international trade creates unintended consequences; especially in energy related trade.
    1. From a right-leaning perspective this can lead to higher prices paid for goods; in this case leading to higher prices for oil. Yes, there are many factors that lead to higher oil prices; but government intervention is a huge one.
    2. A left-leaning perspective would see intervention in the oil trade as bad because it creates too much interested in foreign countries that produce oil. I can’t be the only one that remembers many on the left saying our war in Iraq was about nothing more than oil (which may be true).
  2. The majority of our foreign oil comes from the western hemisphere and not from the Mideast as politicians try to imply. The IEA has posted to the top five sources the US imports oil from: Canada 29%, Saudi Arabia 14%, Venezuela 11%, Nigeria 10%, and Mexico 8%.  Only 22% of our total oil imports come from the Mideast; with Saudi Arabia providing most of that supply. It simply isn’t true that we are ‘dependent’ upon any one particular source.
  3. Energy independence and climate change are two different issues; but the issues are very related since our energy choices have environmental implications. If the US is going to take a protectionist approach to energy independence, it also creates incentives for an isolationist environmental approach.  Environmental implications of energy and climate change are important issues and deserve to be more than simple campaign tricks.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has released its World Energy Outlook 2012 publication (costs €120 for the PDF). IEA has posted a an executive summary (PDF) highlighting some of the key findings. Overall the summary is worth reading.

The new report from the IEA helps to further repute the claim that the US must work harder to become ‘energy independent’. This passage from the IEA report tells the story:

By around 2020, the United States is projected to become the largest global oil producer (overtaking Saudi Arabia until the mid-2020s) and starts to see the impact of new fuel-efficiency measures in transport. The result is a continued fall in US oil imports, to the extent that North America becomes a net oil exporter around 2030.

In addition to becoming a net-exporter of oil the IEA report also predicts that the US will “see gas overtake oil around 2030 to become the largest fuel in the energy mix.” And by 2035 renewable energies will account for roughly one-third of all electricity output (I’ve seen lower estimates for in the US, but cannot find them right now). All of this adds up to the ‘energy independence’ fear approach taken by politicians as a non-issue.

Some would say the energy policies of current and previous administrations have led towards this energy independence. I would say that argument is unfounded. In the past I’ve debated  that increased energy independence has more to do with market forces as opposed to government intervention. However, no matter the reason, I think its time for politicians to just stop using energy independence as one of their standard fear-inspired stances.

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