Tension in the Middle East has combined with Mother Nature along the Gulf Coast to underscore the danger inherent in our dependence on imported oil, much of which comes from nations that use the revenues to put our security at risk.
Fortunately, this comes as new technologies present themselves, giving us the opportunity to reduce our dependency on petroleum. Will we capitalize on them? We had better do so, for our economy and security will depend on it.
Without action, our dependence will grow. Oil imports covered a third of our oil needs in the 1970s. Today it is 56 percent, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Under current trends, it will rise to 68 percent by 2025.
World oil demand – much of it generated by China and India – will grow by half in the next 20 years, leading to higher prices. Ominously, supply disruptions caused by terrorism or political instability could send prices through the roof. The $3-plus gasoline prices that hit us in the wake of the recent hurricanes may become the norm.
The Middle East is home to two-thirds of the world’s known reserves, most of it in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. Billions of Saudi dollars continue to be invested in spreading radical Wahhabism around the world, indoctrinating yet more potential anti-Western terrorists. Iran remains the world’s greatest sponsor of terrorism, and its leaders defy international calls for it to curb its nuclear program.
Other key oil exporters include Russia, an uncertain ally on the Iran issue and others, and Venezuela, a bitter critic. Meanwhile, Islamist terrorist leaders have threatened to attack the world’s oil industry with the intention of weakening the global economy.
Hence, we depend increasingly for our energy needs on countries that present challenges to our security, or that could find reasons to make more trouble, or could themselves face terrorist attacks.
New technologies can substantially reduce our vulnerability. We already have the knowledge and resources to greatly increase the supply of alternative fuels and reduce the demand for oil.
On the supply side, we can substitute much of the oil we consume with ethanol made from various plants. Further down the road we will be able to more fully develop bio-diesel and other alternative fuels, as well as FFV – flexible fuel vehicles – which could make use of more than one of these alternatives.
Six million vehicles in the United States already rely mostly on ethanol, and our new-found ability to produce ethanol from plant material at low cost can enable us to largely replace the oil we import for passenger vehicles.
Broad use of diesel fuel is further away, but a Conagra turkey processing facility in Missouri highlights the potential of producing diesel from turkey waste.
On the demand side, we can use oil more wisely by relying more on fuel-efficient vehicles. Diesel engines get better gas mileage than regular engines. Gasoline-electric hybrids use much less fuel than gasoline-powered cars. Lightweight vehicles also increase fuel efficiency.
Diesels and hybrids are on the market, while lightweight vehicles are starting to migrate from the race care industry. Plug-in hybrids with improved batteries hold the promise of even greater fuel efficiency, especially for the short trips for which they are well suited.
Already market forces are at work as major auto manufacturers increase production of hybrids. As a nation, we should decide how to best accelerate the development of the other new technologies. We consumers should commit ourselves to capitalizing on them. The faster we do, the faster we can wean ourselves from oil which puts our prosperity in the hands of those who seek to do us harm.