From issue: The Economic Crisis: What is Next? (Spring 2009)
With new energy alternatives still decades away, the hemisphere's oil reserves remain crucial.
Since the days of Richard Nixon, U.S. presidents have called for energy independence — even as their country’s appetite for foreign sources of oil has continued to grow. Today the U.S. consumes almost a quarter of global oil supplies, with little sign of a cutback in consumption, which will likely consign President Barack Obama’s $150 billion campaign pledge to achieve full energy selfsufficiency within ten years to the same fate as his predecessors.
Although the new president’s serious intentions are clear—he has already underscored his pledge to look for “green” energy alternatives and put America at the forefront of the effort to tackle global warming by choosing renowned scientist Steven Chu as his energy secretary— his ability to implement many of his promises will be constrained both by the economic crisis and by lower oil prices. With their attention focused on jobs, energy reform has slipped in the priorities of many voters and policymakers.
Opening up more U.S. reserves to oil drilling, a tendentious issue during the campaign, would offer little help. Even if the green light were given to all three major untapped sources of oil pushed by U.S. oil companies—the outer continental shelf, oil shale production in the U.S. West, and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—dependence on foreign sources of oil would continue.
According to the American Petroleum Institute, this would only lift U.S. crude production by as much as 2 million barrels per day (b/d)— or one-fifth of current imports—by 2030. At the same time, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently forecast that the country’s oil demand will remain steady at around 20 million to 21 million barrels per day over the next two decades. Thus, even as domestic oil production grows, the EIA says, the U.S. will only be able to cut its dependence on imported oil from 58 percent in 2007 to 40 percent, or around 8 million b/d, in 2030...