Growing Militarization of Our Oil Dependence

The American people now face a critical choice: We can continue to increase our dependence on imported oil and risk a higher price in both treasure and blood to obtain it, or we can move to reduce our reliance on petroleum altogether....

Published: 12-Oct-2004

RISING GASOLINE prices and tight global supplies have given fresh impetus to claims that the world is fast approaching the moment of "peak" oil production, beyond which we can expect declining energy output and economic decline. While there is no doubt that global oil output will attain peak levels, the current rise in prices reflects a more worrisome phenomenon: America's growing dependence on imported petroleum from unstable and unfriendly countries, entailing an increased risk of supply disruptions and military involvement abroad.

Bitter ethnic conflict in Nigeria, for example, has slowed exports from that country, while political warfare in Venezuela and insurgent attacks in Colombia have depressed those countries' output. Despite heroic efforts by the United States, moreover, production in Iraq continues to suffer due to almost daily sabotage of pipelines, refineries, and loading facilities. These developments -- and not a lack of petroleum in the ground -- are largely responsible for the current surge in prices. The growing focus on peak oil arises from the fact that we have used up much of the world's easy-to-find petroleum (like that in Texas and Oklahoma) and are approaching a time when most of our oil will come from relatively inaccessible supplies -- deep underground, far offshore, or in remote and inhospitable areas. As we move in this direction, the cost of producing oil will rise and the output of any given field will diminish. But many such reserves do exist, and with the help of advanced technologies we can tap into these supplies and postpone the day of peak oil output.

Still, there will be the problem of growing US reliance on unstable and unreliable suppliers. At one time, most of the world's oil was produced in the United States, Europe, and other relatively stable areas; today, most of these fields are in decline and we obtain a growing share of our energy from the ever-turbulent Middle East and from other suppliers in the developing world.

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