The upshot of President Barack Obama’s latest energy speech is correct. We can reduce one-third of our oil imports by 2025. Ironically, the United States has simultaneously never had a better or worse energy outlook. Improving corporate average efficiency standards will effectively bring America to the president’s target probably by itself. When you add the 900,000 b/d onshore oil production addition expected from North Dakota’s Bakken shale, the huge potential of unconventional oil in the United States, and the projections for deepwater Gulf of Mexico oil production in a normal permitting environment, U.S. domestic oil production is likely to increase by millions of barrels a day, not thousands, in the coming years. What’s more, the U.S. has more shale gas than you can shake a stick at, and Obama wants to use natural gas in vehicles.
All this would be great news for U.S. energy security, “but…” and the “but” is a large one. The future stability of oil production capacity increases from the Middle East is highly dependent on the region’s political trends which remain very much up in the air. In all honesty, no one can know if oil supply from the region will be able to continue at today’s rates, much less at higher rates, given the high level of political turmoil.
The other “but” is that we have to worry that all this promising domestic energy cited by the president will be cut off by not in my backyard (nimby) environmental politics. The administration’s schizophrenia on the issue of drilling and environmental protection is another reason Americans are worried about energy security. We don’t know whether to tighten our belts in the name of environmental protection or to drive on another mile or two because we are the Saudi Arabia of oil shale and shale gas resources.
So in general, commentators were disappointed by the president’s energy speech, and with good reason. He offered no comfort that he knows what to do if there is a large, major disruption of oil flow from the Middle East. So it is good news that we will likely be more energy independent in 2025, should nothing go wrong in the international oil system over the next ten years. But if I am like most Americans, I wanted to know the president’s plan for what we are going to do if our oil supply gets cut off this year. That would have been content in a presidential energy speech that would have inspired greater confidence.
Amy Myers Jaffe is the Executive Director for Energy and Sustainability at the University of California, Davis, with affiliation at the Graduate School of Management and the Institute of Transportation Studies. Jaffe was formerly the Wallace Wilson Fellow in Energy Studies Director, Energy Forum at the James Baker III Institute for Public Policy. She was also the senior editor and Middle East ...
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