NPR Distinguishes Energy Independence From Security

Surging oil and natural gas production has transformed the domestic energy paradigm. With the U.S. on track to replace Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer, will the U.S finally meet President Nixon's 1973 goal of 'energy independence'?

National Public Radio has been exploring different aspects of rising fossil fuel production in the U.S., which is largely a result of the controversial drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

On Oct. 24, Steve Inskeep reported that "(T)he United States could soon overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil producer. The Associated Press reports new drilling methods have boosted U.S. oil production 7 percent this year alone. And next year, the Energy Department sees American output falling just shy of Saudi Arabia's 11.6 million barrels per day. Industry analysts predict that by 2020, North America could be the new Middle East."

On Oct. 25, Tom Gjelten delved into GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's "national goal of North American energy independence by the year 2020".

"With that promise, Romney joins a long line of U.S. leaders (originating with the 1973 Arab oil embargo) who have preached the virtues of energy independence. Few, however, have explained precisely what this goal means", Gjelten states (on audio and via text)." Mitt Romney does distinguish his goal by calling for North American, rather than U.S., energy independence.

Gjelten explains why energy independence is "impossible".

"In truth, it would be virtually impossible for any country to be totally independent where energy is concerned. Not only would it have to produce all its own oil; it would also have to be independent of the global economy." In other words, any disruption in world oil supply would have a direct affect on the price of gasoline that motorists pay at the pump.

"With respect to price, therefore, there is no such thing as energy independence. Even if the U.S. were producing as much oil as it was consuming, a halt in production by Iran or Saudi Arabia would still drive up the oil price in the U.S.", Gjelten explains.

So why 'security' rather than independence?

"If a country produces as much oil as it uses, it is less vulnerable to some foreign country shutting the tap. Amy Jaffe, executive director of energy and sustainability at the University of California, Davis, says this is the big reason governments want to reduce their dependence on foreign oil producers."

"I prefer the term 'energy security,'" says Roger Altman, who served as deputy Treasury secretary under President Clinton", who further explains the significance of not being dependent on "rogue nations" for oil.

So while oil supplies would be safe, the price on the gasoline pump would be based on the global price - regardless of the amount of oil drilled in North America.

[Note: Planetizen posted a March NPR report on different aspects of energy independence and a summary of a New York Times article on a similar issue].

Full Story: U.S. Closing In On Saudi Arabia's Oil Production



Irvin Dawid's picture

Energy 'independence' achieved! NPR provides an example

Continuing in their education about what to expect, or not to expect with increased oil production in North America, NPR's Oct. 26 report on the topic (the third consecutive one on Morning Edition) takes a close look at a "magical" country the pumps more oil than it burns - Canada.

NPR's "Planet Money" blogger David Kestenbaum "called Stephen Gordon, a professor of economics at Université Laval in Quebec City, to ask him about what energy independence means for his nation."

"It's not really that big a deal," Gordon tells Kestenbaum.

Gordon states that his local gas station charges "$1.37 per liter, in Canadian dollars."

"Do all the conversions, adjust for taxes, and you get something around $4 per gallon — about the same price as we pay in the U.S. right now.

Energy independence does not mean cheaper gasoline. It doesn't even mean that prices are more stable. Gas prices in Canada went up this summer just like they did in the United States. Prices in Canada are sensitive to conflict in the Middle East, or increased demand from China."

Keep reading, or listen to the audio which goes on beyond what is recorded on transcript.

In short, energy independence - pumping more oil than is consumed, does bring economic benefits to a country - and they are substantial - just look at North Dakota's unemployment rate, and new industrial investment in the Midwest prompted by cheap natural gas. [See Oct. 24 WSJ "Cheap Natural Gas Gives New Hope to the Rust Belt"]. But it does not affect what the motorist pays at the pump - which is what politicians falsely 'appear' to promote. It doesn't even make the price stable. But do listen to the tape!

Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

"Independent" reporting.

Increasing indicators of National Petroleum Radio notwithstanding (and the fact that Laval University is beautiful and I wish I was there now), it would be nice to see some reporting on all that extra greenhouse gas energy we are putting into the system so intelligent consumers and informed markets can drive efficiencies and a shift to renewables...



Decreased emissions

Actually, fracking has driven a decrease in emissions due to closing coal power plants that can't compete with the cheaper and far more efficient natural gas power plants. And no matter what politicians say, coal is not a power source we should try to artificially prop up. Whether fracking is damaging on the local scale, however, is the truly problematic issue.

Actually, overall emissions.

Actually, fracking has driven a decrease in emissions due to closing coal power plants that can't compete with the cheaper and far more efficient natural gas power plants.

Actually, there are indications that CH4 leaks from wells offset the 'efficiency'. Not to mention my actual point was that the overall emissions we are...erm...emitting are changing the climate, regardless of source.



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