There’s been a lot of raving and blustering recently from Republican Presidential candidates about America’s oil and energy independence. They seem to be concerned that our dependence on foreign oil and its relationship with our economic troubles. Rick Santorum has gone so far as to call the 2008 recession the result of high oil prices.
Today the United States consumes nearly 20 million barrels of oil per day; more than the European Union and more than twice what China consumes. Of the almost 20 million barrels we use everyday we import more than 50 percent or a little over 10 million barrels and the majority (around 65 percent) of that oil comes from five or six countries, among them Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico. Our neighbors to the north or south don’t threaten our national security for the most part (who shivers at the sight of a Mountie?) and while some people may view Saudi Arabia as a threat, relations between the country and the US have been decent for decades.
So what exactly about our oil dependence jeopardizes our national security?
Presumably, they’re worried about oil price spikes, which increase the cost of doing business and subject our economy to political and economic events abroad. Many economists have found a relationship between oil prices and recessions and concerns about oil price shocks affecting the economy have strong roots in evidence. But, can oil prices really be blamed for the 2008 recession, like the frothy mixture of 19th century social norms and gilded age economic policy contends?
Probably not, there’s no doubt that the bursting of the housing bubble led eventually to the failure of Lehman Brothers, which helped precipitate the long period of deleveraging we’re experiencing today. There may be a lot of debate over what caused the housing bubble to form and blow up in the first place, but no one can believe that rising oil prices forced new home prices up more than 100 percent over two decades.
Nonetheless, Mr. Santorum makes an important point, even if he didn’t mean to. The energy dependence problem must be solved in order to avoid vulnerability, but how?
In the GOP’s most recent weekly radio address Governor Jack Dalrymple of North Dakota called for President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline in order to solve the nations energy problems with the 100,000 barrels per day the pipeline might provide. He also decried the “overly burdensome regulation” that he says inhibits energy development.
What Gov. Darlymple doesn’t seem to grasp is that the United States only has 2% of the world’s oil reserves and deregulating the oil industry won’t make oil magically appear under the earth’s surface.
If the nation really wants to solve the energy dependence problem, alternative energy sources are the only real solution. Whether its nuclear, solar, wind, ethanol, or some combination of the lot, no long-term answer to the United States energy woes will come from drilling. Yes, it’s expensive and guess what, oil companies and automotive manufacturers may disagree, but that’s too bad. Alternative fuel has the power to become this country’s next internet boom. Up front investment might cost billions upon billions, but in the long-term alternative sources will provide jobs at home and products that can be shipped abroad. The net value to the government might be negative and a few people might find their wallets a little thinner, but for the nation, there’s infinite value.