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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

Just another political scam

Q: What does it mean for a nation to be energy independent? Is it realistic and if so how should that be achieved?

If truth in advertising requirements applied to political slogans and proposals, energy independence would never have survived its first utterance from President Nixon. Although it is an illusion that has no basis in reality, it has persisted as a claimed policy objective since the early 1970s. Energy Independence is just another political scam used to take taxpayer dollars and enrich favored constituencies. Isn't that what the ethanol mandate is all about?

The idea as articulated is that we take steps to become independent of all imported oil. even though the cause of concern is oil imported from the Persian Gulf. Over the course of the last several decades, we have imported oil from Canada, Mexico, and North Sea producers, none of which should be a source of concern to us.

Not only is energy independence an illusion but if we sought to eliminate all oil imports or even just those from the Persian Gulf, we would impose such a large cost on our economy that we would harm our competitiveness and export more jobs to other countries. Further, even if we could some how magically eliminate imports, we could not insulate our economy from the effects of actions that disrupted the flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Our economy is connected to those of our trading partners and if they were harmed by an oil price spike or a disruption of supply, our economy would be impacted as well.

We can become more energy resilient. We can become more energy secure. But, we cannot become energy independent. Since politicians know that we can't achieve zero oil imports, their calls for energy independence are simply dishonest.

The Energy Information Administration forecast out to 2030 shows slow growth in liquid fuel consumption. While that is good news because it is a sign of increased energy efficiency and substitutes, it is not no or negative growth. Two decades from now, we will be using more; not less liquid fuels to move goods across the country, to fly commercial aircraft, and to reap the benefits of personal mobility. Imports will remain a major source of our liquid fuel needs.

For several decades, we have had a self imposed embargo on domestic oil production in our coastal waters and in parts of Alaska. Where the petroleum industry has been allowed to explore, it has found oil. There is a lot of oil that we could produce in this country and every barrel we produce here is a barrel that we don't import. That improves our energy security and creates good paying jobs here instead of in other countries.

While we cannot produce our way to independence and we cannot insulate ourselves from what happens in global oil markets, we can increase our energy security. Producing more domestic oil, maintaining an adequate Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and making sure that our infrastructure is adequately protected are actions that help to achieve that goal. Continued calls for independence don't. They are just a way to hide schemes to direct more subsidies to the favored, none of which contribute to maintaining a system of mobility that is affordable and resilient.

By William O'Keefe  |  March 31, 2010; 6:40 AM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Posted by: fabco | April 5, 2010 1:10 PM
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"With 10% of the nation would pay the Obama Admin to sponsor grass roots energy workshops...."


John Boehner

"Wasn't the Carter inspired energy department supposed to solve this??"

Carter warned in 1979 that oil was the Achilles heel of the U.S.
Everything carter started ... Reagan eliminated.

Posted by: knjincvc | April 4, 2010 2:46 PM
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Wasn't the Carter inspired energy department supposed to solve this?? It is still in existence and the dependence is higher than ever. Are we still pouring oil into salt mines to save for an emergency? I guess when we go to use that, and find that it is not usable, we will say "Oh well"

Posted by: madmonk73 | April 4, 2010 5:12 AM
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5) Liquified gas is a winner.
6) CO2 sequestering is a political joke.
7) Hydrogen is an expensive political joke.
Posted by: Tony27 | April 3, 2010 5:04 PM
Check out Windfuels proposals. Instead of sequestering CO2 "recycle" the captured CO2 thru FTS process to produce more fuel.

Posted by: WilliamBlake | April 3, 2010 7:35 PM
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Frankly, we are not a independent nation.
We are owned by a multinational cartel.

Therefore, talk of energy independence, when we are kept in a interlocking system of DEPENDENT nations, is foolish. We are not allowed independence from our rulers monopolies.

Nixon was taking us to real energy independence. The Rockefeller led globalist cartel broke him, and dismantled his energy program.

Yeah, I know. Dramatic nonsense. But how else to sum up what happened and what it meant? It can all be explained in boring convoluted detail in a dozen books.

World peace is maintained by allowing no nation real economic independence. Each is dependent on others for some vital resources or supplies.

Nixon sponsored R&D and subsidised the building of much improved Fischer Tropsch Synthetic fuel pilot, which was completed min early 80's and runs at profit ever since. Today Qatar, and China are leading the world building these facilities. We did have a few being built by the USAF to provide aviation fuel in a crisis, but these were cancelled in this years congress.
We could convert a half ton of low grade coal to equal a barrel of oil worth of diesel and aviation fuel, for about $40.
Crude oil is selling now for about $86 a bbl, before its refined.
If we tripled our current rate of coal mining,we could replace 100% of ALL oil used by the USA. If we increased coal mining by 85% we could replace all imported oil.
The problem, it takes us 10 years to build a plant (China cranks out a new FTS plant in 18 months).
Like I said, Oil companies do not like FTS plants competition, so they
stopped the USA from building them politically. And it works into the idea of mutual interdependence globalists push.

That's the real reason why energy independence is impossible, imo.

Posted by: WilliamBlake | April 3, 2010 7:24 PM
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We can come close with three easy steps. Convert to natural gas for the power plants while stepping up the building of nuclear plants. This will eliminate coal fired plants that while cheap are extremily dirty.

Use our vast coal reserves to create gasified coal. This is a proven technology that not only is clean burning in vehicles but costs less and can be produced in the US.

Posted by: Pilot1 | April 3, 2010 7:00 PM
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O'Keefe made a good start at saying it right.
However I must add,
1) Corn based ethanol in not even close to being energy neutral - it uses more oil energy than it produces in ethanol energy. It is simply a vote buying program.
2) Mexico will stop exporting oil to the USA in 2 or 3 years. They are currently our number two source.
3) Wind power is nice even if it costs twice that of the current supply - and that twice does not include the power companies having to build an equal number of land based gas turbine driver generators to back-up the wind power. The real cost is 4 times the current power cost.
4) Nuclear power is the only way to go for home and business use - fixed facilities. In my opinion, it will not displace the liquid fueled transportation system since battery technology will never become robust enough.
5) Liquified gas is a winner.
6) CO2 sequestering is a political joke.
7) Hydrogen is an expensive political joke.

Posted by: Tony27 | April 3, 2010 5:04 PM
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I find it ironic that Mr O'Keefe claims that energy independence is just a poltical boondoggle, as he helms the George C. Marshall Institute, which spent most of the 90s lobbying for the "Star Wars" Strategic Defense Initiative, probably the most lucrative sinkhole for unaccountable funds ever looted from taxpayers.

Posted by: info53 | April 3, 2010 4:15 PM
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All I can think of to say is:

If we get off our fat duffs we can! If we spend 1/2 of what we spend on war to the production of passive and ecologically friendly energy. If the home owners in the USA would use some good ole' American ingenuity and utilize their liberal educations to learn some very basic principles....We'd all be up and running on our own in no time! WE have to stop being the pampered gluts we've become though and get to work.

With 10% of the nation would pay the Obama Admin to sponsor grass roots energy workshops....spending some time in volunteer learning and community self help programs would definitely be good therapy for those with much time on their hands...better by far than utilizing that time feeling sorry for themselves. Volunteering at first that is.

Posted by: alaskansheilah | April 3, 2010 3:30 PM
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"While I am not ready to treat the environment as a bank of natural resource to be mined for profit, I could support expanded extraction under careful regulation and monitoring."

So...they're not doing that now? You should probably support expanded extraction because it is a net plus to the United States, but that's not important anymore.

"The industry has to regain the public's confidence. And if we intend to go on burning fossil fuels, we need efficient carbon sequestration technology."

For starters, why does the industry have to regain the public's confidence? In case you haven't noticed, global warming's a bunch of B.S. If you're not convinced, let's let the Germans get off in here:

Of course, maybe you mean for past spills and nuclear problems. Well, I think technology's improved between Santa Barbara and now so I think the true energy industry and not that fake subsidized stuff from solar, wind, bio, and nuclear don't have any public confidence to regain. Perhaps the pols can just stop beating up on them for private advantage. Speaking of which, when will demand the pols regain our confidence with all of their hairbrained schemes? But I digress.

Only America continues to shoot itself in the foot and thinks its leading the world because we don't exploit our own energy sources. The rest of the world just mocks us as we continue to kill ourselves.

Posted by: cmb551 | April 3, 2010 1:33 PM
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Unlike the first poster, I don't think the fact that we will have a steady supply of oil from the Middle East for decades to come is an unhealthy state of affairs. If you think the Middle East is a charnel house now, wait until the oil dries up. The fact is that oil revenues from the West help keep Middle Eastern countries in balance and that without them, they will deteriorate into anarchy. We have allies in the region and if their economies are ever to diversify enough to support their populations, oil will have to pay for the transition.

Dependence on Middle Eastern oil is good for the West. We get the oil at a reasonable price and when the markets become unstable, our allies frequently open the spigots to help stabilize them. It's not always a perfect arrangement, but on average it's beneficial to all parties involved.

The more oil being produced and consumed, the better, regardless of what environmentalists say. It's an indication that the world's economy is running on all its cylinders, to use an appropriate metaphor. Of course, I'm one of those who think the CO2 scare is vastly exaggerated.

Posted by: theduke89 | April 3, 2010 1:08 PM
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Even if we imported no energy at all, we would not be energy independent. We would just be operating a closed economy, similar to North Korea. And that would not guarantee that the price of oil was stable. The price fluctuations would still be there as supply and demand changed.
We would all be better off if we simply realized that the world is a stochastic environment despite the human desire for a static one.

Posted by: bruce18 | March 31, 2010 2:11 PM
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Not too surprising that the former COO of the American Petroleum Institute is a proponent of "Drill baby, drill!" It is certainly true that we will not be able to wean ourselves entirely from foreign oil overnight, but it is a worthy goal. It would also be prudent to come up with alternatives now rather than wait until scarcity makes the cost of procrastination extremely painful...

Posted by: AbuColetrane | March 31, 2010 1:52 PM
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It is true that the Middle East oil supply will remain vital to the global economy for decades to come. That is not a healthy state of affairs. Many alternative energy sources are more broadly dispersed; they can support a more localized and resilient energy system. It is true that when a senator from the state of Cargill or ADM calls for energy independence, you'd better watch your wallet. However, not everyone who uses the call for independence to support alternative energy represents the state of Cargill.

I was pleased to see you make a distinction between energy independence and security or resilience.

While I am not ready to treat the environment as a bank of natural resource to be mined for profit, I could support expanded extraction under careful regulation and monitoring. The industry has to regain the public's confidence. And if we intend to go on burning fossil fuels, we need efficient carbon sequestration technology.

Posted by: j2hess | March 31, 2010 1:35 PM
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