May 08, 2012

Read This Now: The New American Oil Boom – Implications for Energy Security

A new report from Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) debunks the myth about America’s oil boom leading to energy independence.

The SAFE study, The New American Oil Boom: Implications for Energy Security, comes on the heels of recent reports that increased domestic petroleum production – made possible through technological innovations such as hydraulic fracturing, enhanced oil recovery and improvements in offshore oil production – could make the United States energy independent over the next few decades. “The nature and meaning of energy independence, however, is widely misunderstood,” the authors of the SAFE report state. “Although increased domestic oil production will have clear positive effects on the U.S. economy, it alone will not insulate America from the risks of oil dependence. This can only be accomplished by reducing the role of oil in our economy.”

The report correctly notes that while increased U.S. domestic petroleum production will have positive benefits for the U.S. economy (e.g., narrowing the U.S. trade deficit), the United States will still be vulnerable to oil price spikes since oil is a globally traded commodity with prices set by the international market. Consequently, while the United States continues to reduce its reliance on Middle East oil, U.S. security will still be tethered to developments in the Middle East given that events in the region can have immediate and lasting impacts on the price of oil, which has implications for the United States. The only solution, the authors note, is to move away from reliance on oil – that is, diversify our liquid fuel sources, particularly in the transportation sector.

Although the authors provide a lot of value added with respect to understanding the truth about energy independence, one area the report falls short is its approach to defining “energy security.” Increasingly, energy analysts are defining energy security in ways that omit any mention of climate change – that is, they fail to acknowledge that our energy security goals should be tied to our climate change goals given that these challenges are two sides of the same coin. I understand the rationale behind not tying energy and climate change together during an election year – especially when the report’s audience may be policymakers that are skeptical of climate change but supportive of broader energy security efforts. Messaging is important.

But I think on energy and climate change the message is more important than the messaging.  The stakes are, in my opinion, too high. Already, energy and climate change are increasingly divorced from each other at a time when the United States can ill afford to treat the two in isolation of each other. As Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta reminded an audience last week, “The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security.” If U.S. investments in alternative energy solutions are not tied to our climate change goals (i.e., solutions that do not lower our carbon footprint or are carbon neutral), the United States may only be mortgaging its future security for short-term security benefits. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Panetta said last week. It is time to reconnect energy and climate change in discussions about America’s energy security future.