Breaking America’s dependence on foreign oil

Last week, President Barack Obama announced a manageable goal to reduce America’s oil imports by 30 percent within a decade in light of the recent hikes in oil prices largely attributed to the political instabilities in the Middle East. During his speech at Georgetown University, President Obama outlined ways to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, including boosting fuel efficiency and increasing investments in developing alternative energy sources such as bio-fuel, natural gas, solar, and wind.

As expected, the Republican leadership responded with calls for an “increase in American energy production” (which roughly translates to “drill, baby, drill”) and to “block any new regulations that will drive up production costs for energy – including the administration’s proposed new EPA regulations on carbon emissions.” The GOP’s proposed solutions to this energy challenge amount to offering a small bandage on a potentially fatal bullet wound. In reality, such shortsighted but politically-expedient answers will hardly alleviate the short-term financial pain felt by families and businesses across America; they certainly do not address the systemic and underlying causes of long-term America’s energy problems.

The GOP’s fixation on short-term relief at the expense of long-term solutions underscores why a collective change in policy mindset is needed to protect the future of America’s energy security. If Americans truly want energy independence, a prospering but stable economy, and control pollution in where they live, then we have to initiate, commit, and follow through on lifestyle, political, and financial changes to achieve those long-term benefits. This requires an attitude shift that places our long-term priorities above our immediate – but temporary – comforts. Otherwise, we will perpetuate a vicious cycle of oil shock, empty promises, and half-hearted short-term and shortsighted actions that only postpone the next oil crisis.  As President Obama emphasized during his speech, “We cannot keep going from shock when gas prices go up to trance when they go back down — we go back to doing the same things we’ve been doing until the next time there’s a price spike, and then we’re shocked again.  We can’t rush to propose action when gas prices are high and then hit the snooze button when they fall again.  We can’t keep on doing that.”

U.S. ranks #1 in world oil consumption. GRAPHIC SOURCE: U.S. Energy Information Administration. EDITED BY:

The emphasis on prioritizing long-term solutions over short-term relief is based on the disturbing but inescapable trends on global energy production and consumption. The fact is there is finite supply of oil in the world, and that supply is dwindling due to increased global demand, particularly by China (with a population of 1.3 billion) and India (with a population of 1.2 billion).

U.S. holds less than 2% of the world's known oil reserves. GRAPHIC SOURCE: U.S. Energy Information Administration. EDITED BY:

The United States, with a population of 307 million, consumes more than 20% of the world’s oil (ranking #1), with more than 18.8 million barrels used daily. Although United States ranks third in the world’s oil production, 51% percent of the petroleum used in the United States have to be imported. Furthermore, United States hold only 19 billion barrels of oil in its proven reserves compared to Saudi Arabia with 266.7 billion barrels, Canada with 178.1 billion barrels, Iran with 136.2 billion barrels, Iraq with 115 billion barrels, Kuwait with 104 billion barrels, Venezuela with 99.4 billion barrels, United Arab Emirates with 97.8 billion barrels, Russia with 60 billion barrels, Libya with 43.7 billion barrels, Nigeria with 36.2 billion barrels, and Kazakhstan with 30 billion barrels. (Did you notice that most of the aforementioned countries are not particularly friendly toward the United States?) To sum it up, there are approximately 1,252.7 billion barrels of oil in the world’s top 17 countries, and the U.S. holds less than 2% of that amount. There is a distinct disconnect between American’s consumption habits and the actual domestic oil supplies to satiate the growing demand. The odds are against us, and we cannot drill our way out of this problem.

In the long-term, growing energy demands from emerging economies will add pressure to the supplies and push up gas prices. That is inevitable. The question is how do we react to this inescapable reality? Do we make wholehearted efforts to significantly reduce our energy usage and support government funding in alternative energy research and development? It takes time to develop viable and scalable alternative energy resources, but this is necessary to ensure our energy security in the future. Developing alternative energy and building an entirely new infrastructure requires resources in such a large scale that only the government can provide. When the Republicans claim that there is not enough money to spend on alternative energy, we need to ask ourselves: If the United States government is willing to provide billions of dollars of subsidies for petroleum (which has been in use since the 1850’s), is there a good excuse for not investing in alternative energy?

The GOP’s proposals to drill more and regulate less will only continue our oil addiction and exacerbate the pain in the future. If we allow ourselves to simply rely on short-term measures to maintain the status quo, it will become a lot more difficult, a lot more costly, and a lot more painful to deal with chronic energy insecurity down the road.


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