For years, some experts
have predicted that the depletion of global oil reserves—and the resulting rising price of oil—would make U.S. dependence on foreign oil economically untenable. Calls to address American energy consumption are nothing new
. Yet technology has expanded the industry’s ability to find and extract oil
: The National Petroleum Council
estimates the total proven reserves at 1.2 trillion barrels—38 years of supply at current rates of consumption. It is likely that another trillion barrels of undiscovered oil exist, as well as 1.5 trillion barrels of “unconventional” reserves of heavy oil, according to the federally chartered advisory committee. As Vijay Vaitheeswaran argues in Foreign Policy
magazine, “the world is simply not running out of oil. It is running into it.”Recently, then, many advocates of oil independence have shifted from an economic argument, which has become hard to sustain at a time when governments are paying $98 a barrel for oil, to a security argument—although this is not to say that national security was not a concern at all previously. Besides the failure of alarmist predictions, two factors explain the shift from an economic to a security discourse: climate change and terrorism. The growing awareness of the causes and extent of climate change has tarnished the image of fossil fuels. According to a BBC poll, 50 percent of the world population favors higher taxes on fossil fuels.
Even more than climate change, however, it is the links between oil and terrorism that cause concern among policymakers. At a conference at the Brookings Institution, former CIA director James Woolsey argued that oil revenue often flows to Islamist regimes that finance madrassas, which educate the next generation of terrorists. Oil can be a source terrorism, but it can also be a target. Oil convoys are one of the main concerns of U.S. troops in Iraq, as they are frequently attacked by terrorists. In addition, the oil fields of the Niger Delta are often attacked by rebel groups.
In his book Freedom from Oil, David Sandalow, an expert on energy policy and climate change, explores what could happen if the next president prioritized oil independence– which he defines as reducing U.S. oil consumption to the point that imports are minimal. [For Sandalow’s response, read comments below.] He believes the transportation complex should be the target of future policies, and that biofuels and plug-in cars are part of the solution. Indeed, as Vaitheeswaran notes, “this year, two-thirds of U.S. oil consumption—and half of global oil consumption—will be sucked up by cars and trucks. Reinventing the car is the only serious way to wean the world off oil.”