US energy independence may be a pipe dream

Oct 24, 2004 02:00 AM

Many energy executives don't believe America can free itself from dependence on foreign oil.
"We do not have the resource base to be energy independent," ExxonMobil chairman Lee Raymond said in a recent speech. "We simply cannot avoid significant reliance on oil and gas from the Middle East."

Someone forgot to tell that to President Bush and John Kerry. As have legions of politicians before them, both Bush and Kerry were holding out the promise of loosening the grip that foreign oil producers have on the USA. Kerry talked of independence, Bush talked of more domestic reliance.
"Together, we'll make an America that is energy independent," Kerry said last spring in Seattle.
And Bush, earlier in Columbus, Ohio, sang a similar tune: "To make sure our economy remains strong and people can find work in America, we must become less dependent on foreign sources of energy."

Energy experts dismiss such talk as little more than empty campaign promises that are not backed up with tough policychanges needed to make a significant difference.
"You need to understand that when they discuss energy independence it's a rhetorical gimmick," says Paul Roberts, the author of the book The End of Oil.
"It sounds good, but the truth is there is no such thing as energy independence for a country that uses as much oil as we do in the United States," Roberts adds. "They've been saying it since Nixon's time. You have to say it. It's like mom and apple pie."

Because the political penalty for advocating real solutions is so high, neither candidate in this presidential race was willing to get serious, says Philip Verleger, an energy economist and senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics.
"I don't think it's realistic to think that any politician that's currently running for president or who might contemplate running for president in the next 8 to 12 years would be able to advocate the steps necessary to lessen our dependence," Verleger says. Among those steps: raising gasoline taxes to cut consumption.

Consider a few facts from the Energy Information Administration of the US Energy Department:
-- Last year, the United States consumed an average of 20 mm barrels of oil and natural gas per day, or 7.3 bn barrels per year.
-- About 56 % of the oil used in the United States is imported.
-- In 2003, the United States produced about 7.8 mm barrels of oil and natural gas per day, or about 2.9 bn barrels per year.
-- US oil reserves (including the Gulf of Mexico) total 22.7 bn barrels, which would last less than eight years at today's rates of consumption and imports.
-- Gasoline for cars and light trucks accounts for about 45 % of US oil consumption.

The quick solutions to the oil issue wouldn't likely be popular with voters.
"If you doubled the price of gasoline (by raising federal taxes) that would get you something like a three to 5 mm bpd reduction over four or five years," Verleger says. "That's a big chunk," he adds, but "it's become the third rail of politics."
Automobiles are the key, Roberts agrees. Strict fuel economy standards achievable with hybrids, plus alternative fuels such as ethanol from more cost-effective crops than corn, would make a substantial difference relatively quickly.

Source: USA Today
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