U.S. Energy Independence: Myths and Reality

U.S. Energy Independence: Myths and Reality

Energy independence has emerged as a popular rallying cry in this U.S. election year. Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls all at some stage have advocated energy independence, which they define as freeing the American oil consumer from the tyranny of importing petroleum from foreign countries, especially the Middle East. While convenient to advocate in an age of sound bite politics, energy independence is in fact not possible to secure in the United States in the foreseeable future, and is of doubtful utility in any country that might be in a position to achieve it.

A combination of rising oil prices and geopolitics, each feeding off the other, has brought the foreign policy implications of oil import dependence to the forefront of public attention in the United States in a way not seen since the 1970s. What initially triggered this was 9/11. The fact that most of the terrorist hijackers involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were from Saudi Arabia was a shock to the American political system: not only was the question asked "Why do they hate us?" but also "Why should we buy their oil?"

More recently, the ongoing war in Iraq, the ascent of Chávez and Ahmadinejad in Venezuela and Iran, the cooling of relations between Russia and the West, the rapid growth of oil demand in China (and its growing role in the global oil market), a resurgence in resource nationalism, and concerns in some quarters that global oil production has peaked, have contributed to a sense of crisis concerning U.S. energy security not seen for nearly three decades. While some of the media attention and policy debate on these issues has been reasoned and timely, in many case cases it has been simply alarmist, hyperbolic and even xenophobic.

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