United States energy independence
U.S. energy independence relates to the goal of reducing the U.S. imports of oil and other foreign sources of energy. If total energy is looked at, the U.S. is over 70% self-sufficient. Energy independence is espoused by those who want to leave America unaffected by global energy supply disruptions, and to restrict a reliance upon politically unstable states for its energy purposes. Energy independence is highly concerned with oil, being perhaps the most important imported energy sources for purposes of both transportation and electricity. The United States is the world's third largest producer of oil, but it also relies on imported oil. More oil is imported from Canada than any other country. 19% of imported oil comes from the Middle East. Such resources are finite and decreasing, despite an increase in demand. World-wide demand for oil is projected to grow 60% over the next two decades.
The U.S. currently produces about 40% of the oil that it consumes; its oil production peaked in 1970 and its imports have exceeded domestic production since the early 1990s. Since the U.S.'s oil consumption continues to rise, and its oil production continues to fall, this ratio may continue to decline. Greater energy self-sufficiency, it is claimed, would prevent major supply disruptions like the 1973 oil crisis and the 1979 energy crisis from recurring. Proponents argue that the potential for political unrest in major oil suppliers, such as Saudi Arabia (15% of domestic consumption), Venezuela (13%), and Nigeria (10%), is abundant, and often cause great fluctuations in crude oil prices (especially in the short-term), despite the risk-potential being factored into market prices.
Oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was discovered in the 1970s, and the question of whether the national park should be opened up to oil exploration is a very controversial issue in American politics. ANWR has been reported as having the largest remaining oil reserve in North America. The U.S. Department of Interior estimates range from 9 to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil (up to 32 billion barrels of recoverable oil at a 5% probability of recovery), which would increase the proven reserves in the U.S. by another 1.2 to 2.2 years (4.4 years at a 5% probability of recovery) at current consumption rates. Environmentalists have raised many concerns about the impact that drilling would have on wildlife, and point out that the expected oil production would only temporarily decrease, not eliminate, America's dependence on foreign oil. Drilling proponents argue that drilling would create many jobs in Alaska, (250,000 to 735,000; Alaska's current population is about 625,000) give America more time to develop alternative energy sources, and that by using modern technology, the environmental effects would be minimal.
As North America’s energy production continues to grow, both the United States and Canada will increasingly be looking for secure long-term sources of demand for those resources internationally. This is potentially a perfect match for Asia’s growing quest for more secure and environmentally sound energy supplies. The boom in renewables development and improvements in energy efficiency also provide new opportunities for technology trade and accelerating the transition toward a cleaner, less carbon-intensive energy mix. More in Pacific Energy Summit.
America's dependence on foreign oil rose from 26 percent to 47 percent between 1985 to 1989.Q
America's imports of foreign oil fell to 36 percent in 2013, down from a high of 60 percent in 2006.
In the beginning, proponents of energy independence looked to the United States' largely untapped domestic oil reserves, either known or potential. Those who favor increasing domestic oil production often suggest removing many of the limitations on oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (see Arctic Refuge drilling controversy) and the Outer Continental Shelf.
More recently, proponents of U.S. energy independence are looking to the wider use of alternatives such as ethanol fuel, methanol, biodiesel, plug-in hybrids and other alternative propulsion. The United States currently imposes an import tariff of 54 cents a gallon on ethanol fuel (there is no such import tariff on oil). In Brazil, ethanol is produced from sugarcane, which yields much more energy per acre than the corn used for ethanol production in the United States.
In the United States, oil is primarily consumed as fuel for cars, buses, trucks and airplanes (in the form of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel). Two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption is due to the transportation sector. A national strategy designed to shift all transportation to a combined use of alternative fuels and plug-in hybrids would free the U.S. from dependence on petroleum (oil). The cost of American Energy Independence would be less than the costs of protecting Middle East oil and defending the U.S. from terrorism.
If alternative fuels are desired at any cost, then the U.S. could also make synthetic fuel from its abundant coal reserves. Methanol, synthetic diesel and gasoline made from U.S. coal can replace petroleum derived fuels for the next hundred years, which is long enough to develop sustainable domestic renewable fuels such as cellulosic ethanol or methanol.
Since Americans may primarily object to oil imports from certain regions (such as the Middle East) rather than in general, sometimes it is proposed that all of North America as a unit should be energy independent, but that the U.S. could still import energy from Canada and Mexico.
Though many American politicians have recently spoken out in favor of working toward energy independence, the discussion among proponents often overlooks the trade implications, focusing more on means and ends. It is rarely discussed whether the effort would be to make the United States into a net neutral/net exporter of energy, wherein the U.S. would produce and consume equivalent or less energy than it produces, or instead to make the United States completely self-feeding, wherein U.S. consumers would purchase energy solely from U.S. producers, enforced by wide embargos/autarkies or tariffs. The conversation among proponents also often disregards macroeconomic factors, such as incentives for American companies to produce in other nations, which offer access to the other ¾ of global demand and an estimated 97% of global fossil fuel reserves.
Opponents of U.S. Energy Independence argue that a major supply disruption has not occurred for more than two decades, and contend that the movement promotes isolationism and protectionism.
Highlighting the difficulty of separating domestic and foreign oil sources, journalist Robert Bryce has stated that "the trends of energy interdependence are growing and are inexorable" and branded the idea of being able choose where your oil came from as "hogwash".
Critical perspectives of U.S. energy independence argue that despite all popular political rhetoric, it is actually impossible and not beneficial to wean the country from all foreign energy sources. It may be best to rely on a broad and varied spectrum of global energy resources. The structure of the argument of critics is arranged as follows:
- Energy independence will not decrease U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
- Interests in the Persian Gulf, including the protection of worldwide energy security upon which the global economy is dependent, will remain a U.S. priority. The oil reserves and the stake the U.S. has claimed upon them by building up such a strong military presence in the region is an investment that will not quickly be abandoned for illusions of independence. Even if someday the country isn’t interested in Middle Eastern oil, the political and economic power that it wields by maintaining strong ties in the area is of sufficient size that abandoning the Gulf entirely would be unlikely.
- In addition, terrorism will not be reduced in the Middle East if the US ceases to buy oil, because terrorism is not funded by oil money. However, US military presence is the most contributing factor to terrorism in the Middle East.
- Although vast oil supplies are found in an unstable region which foster difficult games of geopolitics, these geopolitics will continue to be fueled by other large consumers of oil, such as China, whether or not the U.S. achieves energy independence. U.S. energy independence will not cause a U.S. pull-out from the Middle East, it will not decrease terrorism, and it will not foster stability or reform in the region.
- The U.S. is unable to produce enough energy to fuel its growing economy and energy use, due to the unreliability of renewable resources and the limited supply of domestic energy reserves.
- Renewable energy sources can be extremely inefficient, as in the case of corn-based biofuels, which requires massive government subsidies and also enormous amounts of water and chemicals to grow, and causes significant air pollution when combusted. Other renewables, namely wind and solar power, are expensive and intermittent, and lack the infrastructure and technology needed to properly store the energy they harness from the environment:
- Natural gas is not a viable portion of US energy since we may have peaked in domestic reserves: U.S. imports of natural gas from Canada have tripled since 1973.
- In the absence of breeder reactors or fusion reactors, nuclear power plants aren’t a solution to energy independence either, since uranium must be imported: currently, 80% of U.S. uranium is imported, mainly from Russia and Canada.
- Although the U.S. enjoys massive coal reserves able to power our country at current rates of energy consumption for 200 years, the hope that the country could use this resource as a liquid to fuel our transportation sector is unlikely. Although currently the U.S. remains a net coal exporter of lower-quality coal, a large and increasing portion of coal is being imported due to the cheaper, high-quality, low-sulfur foreign coal needed by power plants coping with air-quality regulations.
- U.S. oil reserves cannot be relied upon: American oil production has been steadily declining since 1970.
- Energy-efficient electrical and electronic devices require rare earth elements which mostly come from Inner Mongolia, and lithium, which mostly comes from the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.
Benefits of oil dependence
Roger Howard has argued in the Wall Street Journal that oil dependence has significant benefits for the US and other oil-importing nations. First, the world's major oil exporters are highly dependent on their oil revenues, and fear rapid drops in the price of oil, such as occurred in late 2008. Second, this fear restrains destructive actions by exporters: Howard cites the example of Russia's 2008 invasion of Georgia. Russia's stock market plunged, and "within a week capital outflow reached a massive $16 billion, suddenly squeezing domestic credit while the ruble collapsed in value." He also gives the example of Libya, where Muammar al-Gaddafi gave up his Pakistani nuclear weapons in exchange for the US lifting its economic sanctions, which had prevented Libya from increasing its oil production.
Energy Resilience and AERS
Andy Grove argues that energy independence is a flawed and infeasible objective, particularly in a network of integrated global exchange. He suggests instead that the objective should be energy resilience: resilience goes hand in hand with adaptability, and it also is reflected in important market ideas like substitutability. In fact, resilience is one of the best features of market processes; the information transmission function of prices means that individual buyers and sellers can adapt to changes in supply and demand conditions in a decentralized way. His suggestion for how to increase the resilience of the U.S. energy economy is to shift use from petroleum to electricity (electrification), that is sticky and can be produced using multiple sources of energy, including renewables.
All electricity from renewable sources (AERS)
Former vice president Al Gore has challenged the United States to commit to producing all electricity from renewable sources (AERS) like solar and wind power in 10 years.Both the Center for Resource Solutions and current president Barack Obama have publicly stated they support Al Gore's AERS goal.
- Apollo Alliance
- Energy security
- Ethanol fuel in the United States
- Making Sweden an Oil-Free Society
- Peak oil
- Pickens Plan
- Securing America's Energy Independence Act of 2007
- Solar power
- Wind technology
- Zero emission
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- Set America Free Coalition
- American Energy Independence
- Energy Security Research
- Energy Independence by California
- Turning Oil into Salt: Energy Independence through Fuel Choice