Column: Illusory oil production

By Alex Rubin

The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College via UWIRE

The Associated Press recently reported that as a result of a four-year boom in oil production, the United States could pass Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil. This news comes during a time when Americans are increasingly concerned about oil prices and stability in the Middle East.

Energy independence has long been a rallying cry for politicians claiming to support American national security. This phrase has become synonymous with a variety of initiatives, namely the escalation of domestic drilling as embodied by the 2008 Republican campaign slogan “drill, baby, drill,” as well as ongoing efforts to pioneer efficient and cost-effective alternative energy sources. However, through all of this, the United States has, out of necessity, been forced to import a large amount of its oil. Though much has been said about the supply of oil in the Middle East, the largest exporter of oil to the United States is Canada, providing just over a billion barrels of oil so far in 2012 compared to the 436 million barrels from Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, U.S. dependence on foreign oil still poses a major national security threat, and the news that the United States has experienced its fourth-straight increase in annual oil production provides U.S. planners with a variety of options. This should not be interpreted as an opening for complacency when it comes to investing in alternative energy sources.

With an increase in domestic production, currently at about 11.4 million barrels per day, the domestic need, currently at 18 million barrels per day, will increasingly be met by domestic production. This means that more and more money spent on oil will be pumped into the U.S. economy, with obvious benefits to the American population. However, this also means that, as oil prices drop and the fear of dependence on oil from the Middle East recedes, there will be a decrease in public pressure on politicians and the private sector to come up with effective and cost-efficient alternative energy sources and to discover new sources of domestic petroleum.

As college students, the events that transpire today with regard to America’s energy policy will have significant and long-lasting consequences in our adult years. Whether we progress on a path toward finding alternative energy sources to, at first, coexist with petroleum and then replace it or become complacent with falling oil prices and rising independence, our choice will heavily weigh on our ability to sustain ourselves when the world’s oil production reaches its Hubbert peak. Therefore, we must be proactive to avoid the devastating effects of this peak to the world’s oil supplies. The breathing room that will be provided by greater independence and greater domestic oil production must be converted into research into alternative energies so that this breathing room can continue into the future.

Therefore, the new flow of wealth that will be diverted from international markets to the domestic economy must be used to supplement existing funding for research into alternative energy sources. The basic rule of capitalism is that when there is a demand for a product, the supply for that product will respond accordingly. Thus, the first step to achieving any form of true energy independence based on the short-term combination of petroleum and alternative energy sources is to continue to provide this demand on the market. Over the past decade, automobile fuel efficiency has increased. Hybrid cars have become more commonplace and solar panels, windmills, hydroelectric plants and nuclear reactors have increasingly taken a larger role in satisfying America’s energy needs.

To complement the increase in research and public interest in alternative energy sources, we need a massive investment in America’s electric grid. The current grid is largely outdated and inefficient. To provide for the dramatically growing energy needs of the American public, and to supplant transportation inefficiencies — a major obstacle to the effective implementation of alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and hydroelectric because of their need to be located at appropriate, and often remote, sites — that come from transporting electricity, the American electric grid must be updated and renovated to include the most advanced technologies so that it may efficiently distribute power throughout the country.

American oil production is increasing, and with this increase will come many benefits to the American economy, its national security and foreign policy; however, this good fortune cannot be met with complacency but instead with an increased determination to extend the benefits of energy independence and sustainability into the future.

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