With the average gallon of gas in the U.S. hovering around $4 and Middle Eastern upheaval threatening countries’ production, the "drill here, drill now" mantra has risen from the ashes of the 2008 election — this time echoed by none other than President Barack Obama. Although this policy might be politically sound, it does nothing considering oil prices are dictated by OPEC production. Instead of wasting time and resources to pursue an unsustainable policy guaranteed to further our dependency on oil while spoiling some of our pristine nature preserves and coast lines, Americans should channel the enthusiasm of “drill, baby, drill” into a committed pursuit of renewable energy sources that can sustain and strengthen our country.
Increased domestic production is a short-term solution to an unsustainable, long-term problem. Since the United States possesses roughly 2% of the world’s oil reserves, increased domestic production would simply delay the inevitable realization that our current level of oil consumption — 25% of world consumption — is unsustainable, regardless of whether or not we drill here. According to the CIA World Factbook, the U.S. has 19.12 billion barrels (bbl) of oil in reserves. Hypothetically, if the U.S. increased domestic production to meet its domestic demand of 18.69 million bbl per day, then it could sustain the entire country for roughly 2.5 years.
Even if the U.S. was able to produce enough domestic oil to meet such a demand, a significant portion would not stay stateside because — unlike other oil-producing countries — the U.S. does not have a state-run oil company. Instead, U.S. oil would be exported to the global market by the oil companies. Today, U.S. exports total approximately 1.7 million bbl per day, roughly 18% of its oil production. If the point of increasing domestic production is to wean ourselves off of oil from other countries, having to buy our own oil back isn’t a rational solution.
Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal recently said he wanted to increase his country’s oil production so prices would drop and the U.S. would be less motivated to pursue alternative energy sources. U.S. military aid to Saudi Arabia has ensured that Americans enjoy low gas prices compared to the rest of the world. Considering the military entanglements and ill-will in the region, alternative energy sources hold great promise for our diplomatic strength.
The only way out from under the burden of heavy gas prices and the arbitrary global oil market is to invest in alternative energy sources that not only free us from the destructive nature of petroleum, but coal and natural gas as well. Imagine American highways filled with electric cars powered by a power grid based off of vertical axis wind turbines, houses covered with solar panel shingles, and a revised and renovated transportation infrastructure that moves freight and passengers on high speed electric rail. These technologies exist and, with enough political will and courage, could be implemented by a forward-looking Congress.
Our country's dependence on foreign oil is troubling, especially when there are currently no immediate American solutions to this American problem. But shouting "Drill, baby, drill" is not a basis for sound energy policy. The eventual oil alternative is going to take millions of dollars in research, development, and production. It is going to take perseverance to beat back the hordes of oil lobbyists that entrenched themselves in Congress. Regardless of what happens between now and the last days of oil, we are going to have to find a solution to our dependency on an increasingly finite energy source.
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