Ever since Nixon declared the goal of freeing ourselves from foreign oil, and being “energy independent” in 1974, it has become one thing both sides of the political aisle agree on. (Lately, the only thing.) And it does sound like a noble goal. It is easy to sit back in your armchair and declare to yourself, “You know, we should be independent of foreign oil. I totally agree. Maybe we do need to drill more in Alaska and off our coasts.” If you did think that, you would be in good company. Every president and every major presidential candidate since Nixon has campaigned on that promise. So why hasn’t it happened?
It hasn’t happened for the same reason none of you have ever seen a unicorn: Because it’s imaginary. What no one wants to admit (because it is a real problem with complex solutions) is once the oil is out of the ground, it ceases to belong to any one country. According to the US Energy Information Administration, the oil we buy is not distinguishable from any other oil. Why? Because it is all sold in the same place. All oil sold internationally (in the world) is sold in the same way. Once it is out of the ground, it is sold on the international marketplace like any other commodity. Natural Resources Canada has a nice explanation of the process. Like all commodities, oil is traded on international exchanges like the New York Mercantile Exchange, in New York, and London’s International Petroleum Exchange. If you decide, “You know I have a commodities account, I would like to buy my very own barrel of oil.” (Which would make you a single man living in a hut.) When you get your barrel, nowhere will it say where it came from.
So why is this important? I’ll tell you. The problem is not foreign oil; it is oil. Even if we open up ANWAR and drill off of every inch of coastline our country possesses, we will not be able to “free ourselves from foreign oil” because that new supply will sell at the same place all the existing supply sells at: the international oil market. This market (like all true markets), operates by the law of supply and demand. That being said, if we did drill every drop of oil we could out of every square inch of land, the price may go down by one or two percent. However, as many experts have pointed out, we could achieve the same, or better, price savings by driving cars with an average fuel efficiency of 35 miles per hour.
My point is this. As far as oil is concerned, there is no independence! We will always buy and sell it on the global market. Therefore the idea of independence from foreign oil is a false argument. That being the case, we need to do what is right for our nation’s needs. With that in mind, why are we drilling in places so deep that we have absolutely no idea what to do when something goes wrong? And why are we pushing to drill in our most precious and fragile wilderness areas? If it all goes to the same marketplace, why don’t we do what is best for America and drill in the safest places we can, and do what we can to develop new technologies that reduce our need for oil?
If we truly want to be independent from the global political realities of our nation’s dependence on oil, then we need to support all of the local energy solutions like: solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, hydroelectric, methane powered energy plants, biomass, bio-diesel, and many more. I’m not naive. Oil will be a part of our world for a long time, but we must move towards energy independence based on well-rounded energy solutions. By embracing new technologies, we can create our own industries that employ millions, leave the world cleaner, and actually offer solutions, rather than solely empty promises.
We can free ourselves from oil dependence by embracing a cleaner future for our nation and the world.
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