By C.T. Carley
According to the Department of Energy, U.S. dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia has increased more than 20 percent this year, underscoring in the most dramatic way our nation’s vulnerability to a military conflict in the Persian Gulf region.
It is a disquieting development, given the growing influence of Saudi Islamist groups like the Wahhabis who are hazardous to U.S. interests and, as well, the risk of war in the Persian Gulf if Iran should gain a nuclear weapon. Iranian authorities threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow channel through which most Gulf oil is shipped, and the Iranian navy has held maneuvers to back up its words. The potential for a blockade of the Strait poses a threat to U.S. supply and a potential oil price shock worldwide.
So, it’s fair to ask why the Obama Administration is doing so little to foster domestic production. If the administration were serious about reducing dependence on Middle East oil, it could open up a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling. That could boost U.S. oil production by 1 million barrels a day, raising output to 6.7 million barrels.
Reversing policies that keep 87 percent of U.S. offshore areas off-limits to energy development would help cut our nation’s reliance on imports, as would expediting the permitting process for oil and gas drilling on govern-ment lands in the Western States. Those steps, combined with aggressive action to promote the use of natural gas in fleet cars and trucks, could cut oil imports by two-thirds.
What’s important to recognize is that while overall U.S. oil and gas production has increased in recent years, it’s due to drilling on state and private lands, not on areas controlled by the federal government.
Even as President Obama was advocating an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, his administration has done just the opposite. It has blocked construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry crude oil from Canada to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas. That shortsighted policy has harmed U.S. energy security, along with our economic relations with Canada, and it has cost tens of thousands of jobs and a lot of revenue.
By now, it should be evident that we cannot achieve energy security without nuclear power. Yet Obama terminated the Yucca Mountain project for nuclear waste disposal. That decision led to a U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has used to suspend licensing on virtually all nuclear activities, including the renewal of operating licenses for the Grand Gulf nuclear plant in Mississippi.
We need more than lip service from Washington about ending the Middle East’s stranglehold on U.S. energy security. There is something dreadfully wrong in having to import 45 percent of the oil we need at a cost of nearly $1 billion a day, a quarter of that amount going to pay for imports from the Persian Gulf.
C.T. Carley, Ph.D.,P.E., is Emeritus Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Mississippi State University. Contact him at email@example.com. He writes occasionally on energy issues for the opinion pages.