Increasing National Security by Ending the U.S. Blood for Oil Energy Policy

Commentary by H. Sterling Burnett

The horrific terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. have made National Security the number one domestic policy priority. Yet this means more than just tightening security at airports. The most profound step that the United States could take to shore up national security is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

Our nation's prosperity depends on oil. Oil is more than fuel. It is a feedstock for plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers and lubricants. Robert Ebel, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, has argued that: "Oil fuels military power, national treasuries, and international politics. It has been transformed into a determinant of well-being, of national security, and of international power for those who possess this vital resource, and the converse for those who do not."

Yet from the Arab oil embargo, through the Gulf War to today, the U.S. remains dependent upon foreign nations for a majority of our oil. Even though a majority of these countries are in regions of the world that are politically unstable and/or have governments that are hostile to U.S. interests.

The results could be seen within hours after the terrorists' attacks, when many parts of the country experienced sharply rising gasoline prices. Rising prices were, in part, a result of gas station owners' fear that a war was about to break out between the U.S. and one or more oil exporting nations, which would reduce the supplies of oil for gasoline and raise their cost.

Now, while our nation's memory is clear and our will is focused, is the time to end this blood for oil trade.

America's remaining large deposits of oil lie under public lands and offshore. Unfortunately, these areas are off-limits to oil production due to environmental concerns. It is time to choose: our national security, or marginally protecting sea birds and otters.

For example, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) likely contains between six and 16 billion barrels of oil. By comparison, the United States imports approximately 7 million barrels of oil per day. Even if only six billion barrels of oil were recovered in ANWR, during a national crisis the U.S. could end all oil imports for two years with little or no effect on our economy.

Critics of opening ANWR to exploration have argued that it would take ten years to recover any oil found there. These same arguments were made 11 years ago during the Gulf War. But if we had made the decision to drill then, we would have less to fear from taking needed military action in the region today.

In addition, every time politicians ham-handedly intervene in the market to keep energy prices artificially low, they further ensure our continued dependence on foreign oil. High energy prices are a sign of scarcity and signal that there is profit to be made by those who can bring new supplies of fuel to the market. New production increases supplies, eventually driving prices down. Price controls on energy only guarantee continued scarcity, since it tells potential oil entrepreneurs that the expensive and risky exploration they undertake in the quest for new oil fields will not be rewarded.

America will never have complete energy independence, nor should we attempt it. Relying only on domestic oil supplies when less expensive foreign alternatives are available would be as foolish as our current policy of dependence. Instead, our energy policy should allow us access to cheap, abundant foreign energy when political winds are favorable, while removing political obstacles to domestic production so that in times of crisis, America's prosperity is not held hostage to hostile foreign powers.