How many Americans would knowingly fill up their car with gas imported from countries on the State Department’s travel warning list? Millions of us probably are doing just that every day. A local fill up en route to the office or a ballgame may very well be contributing directly to the $36 billion America sends to Nigeria each year.
Americans rely on China, the Middle East and Africa for oil and other commodities, while simultaneously engaged in a “war on terror.” Nineteen percent of America’s oil comes from the Middle East and a like amount from Africa – countries politically unstable and often hostile to the United States. In a very real sense, we are enabling our adversaries.
America’s trade deficit swells to $40.2 billion even as China has surged to become the world’s leading exporter. Our trade deficit widened to its highest level in a year last December, largely as a result of higher oil prices. All this as unemployment nationally pushes ten percent. Our economic recovery and long-term growth is closely linked to our reliance on foreign oil, even though an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 jobs could be created as a result of decreasing America’s dependency on oil.
America relies on energy — especially energy refined from oil — to operate; without this “liquid gold,” our country would grind rapidly to a standstill. We import 70 percent of the oil we need, sending $700 billion overseas every year. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with allowing the free market to work in this regard; other countries have what we need, so they sell and we buy.
Free-market competition, however, should not dictate we put our heads in the sand and continue importing oil with no thought to the future. What makes sense in the short term and the long term is for the U.S. to develop domestic natural gas reserves as a supplement and as an alternative to oil. In 2008, America consumed 23 percent of the world’s petroleum, 57 percent of which was imported while we hold less than two percent of the world’s known reserves. However, we have sufficient known natural gas reserves spread across the lower 48 states to supply America with energy from natural gas for the next 90 years.
Overdependence on imported oil tethers America to unstable and hostile regimes, and requires the U.S. to stretch and plant its military presence across the globe. Obtaining oil from mercurial suppliers such as Venezuela, or extracting it from states like Iraq by means of occupation, represents neither fiscally sustainable nor wise policies. To secure continued reliable access just to Iraq’s reserves, will require us to assume responsibility for re-development of that country’s oil fields and refining capacity – at a cost of tens of billions of dollars and extended support for the country’s political system.
But there is a bright spot in this debate. Its name is “T. Boone Pickens.” Pickens’ effort in “Ending America’s Dependence on Foreign Oil,” represents sound policy and clear thinking in an arena often devoid of both. He is drawing attention to this issue in a non-partisan manner and putting his own money into the effort. He also has drawn attention to legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate that would encourage alterative energy development and natural gas exploration.
While we should allow the free market to operate, we should also use a little common sense; which would tell us it’s irresponsible to empower our adversaries, tie our country’s hands diplomatically and financially, and seriously hamper our economic recovery. Doing business with countries hostile to American interests is not smart — investing in our own industry and creating jobs is smart economics, smart politics, and smart foreign relations. And T. Boone Pickens is showing us the way.