Gingrich fuels the fantasy of US energy independence
Last week, the Republican presidential candidates held yet another debate, this one focused on foreign policy. Unfortunately, Newt Gingrich took the opportunity to further confuse voters about the state of U.S. oil supplies and to trot out once again the ridiculous notion of U.S. independence from oil imports. Now, I don’t expect much truth from politicians on the campaign trail, but Gingrich’s latest misleading statements only serve to foster the public’s lack of understanding about energy issues.
You said earlier that it would take too long to open up American oil. We defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in three years and eight months because we thought we were serious.
If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse. Now, that’s what we would do if we were a serious country. If we were serious…
CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer came back to the point, asking Gingrich to elaborate on the impact of sanctioning the Iranian Central Bank, which would effectively cut off 4 million barrels a day of crude, much of which flows to Europe. Gingrich’s response:
Well, I say you — the question you just asked is perfect, because the fact is we ought to have a massive all-sources energy program in the United States designed to, once again, create a surplus of energy here, so we could say to the Europeans pretty cheerfully, that all the various sources of oil we have in the United States, we could literally replace the Iranian oil.
Now that’s how we won World War II.
The comment drew wide applause, and why not? After all, we’d like to believe our energy problems are relatively easy to solve — something that can be addressed with our can-do spirit, and perhaps less government regulation. The problem, as Art Berman points out on The Oil Drum, is that the U.S. would have to produce far more oil than it ever has to bring about the price collapse Gingrich suggests. In fact, we’d have to find more than six domestic fields equal to Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay in one year, Berman estimates. Prudhoe Bay took 11 years to enter production.
Explaining U.S. energy consumption is a little like explaining the national debt: the numbers are so large, people have difficulty comprehending the scale of the problem. We are producing more oil domestically thanks to hydraulic fracturing of shale formations, but it isn’t nearly enough to make us energy independent. Nor will opening new areas for offshore drilling. Those may help to offset imports, but they will never replace them.
I recently did a series of radio interviews around the country, which were prompted by crude oil topping $100 a barrel. The assumption was that gasoline prices would rise, and many of the hosts I spoke with were confused that pump prices were actually falling. The fact is, most consumers won’t get too worried about our lack of an energy strategy until prices begin rising again, which will probably begin early next year. When they do, statements like Gingrich’s will actually work against a solution. It feeds the notion that there’s a secret conspiracy to keep oil prices high.
The reality is that our energy needs are going to require conservation, development of both conventional and alternative sources, and a higher price for whatever sources we develop. In other words, sacrifice and commitment. That, of course, isn’t a message that’s likely to get anyone elected.
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