COLUMN: Breaking our dependence on foreign oil
This editorial that follows is about the U.S addiction to foreign oil and how it imperils our economic and national security. We must and can end that addiction through a renewed emphasis upon various forms of energy development here within North America where we have reliable partners in Canada and Mexico, our own abundant energy resources, and, if unleashed, the entrepreneurial, spirit to use energy more efficiently.
Iranian-American relations collapsed when radical Islamic followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979. At the same time, oil production within Iran dropped substantially curtailing global access to oil. Combine that with a concern that Iran would seek to block the flow of oil out of the Persian Gulf to cripple the U.S. economy. The result — the price of oil rose dramatically causing 1979’s “oil shock” which took the average price of crude oil from $15.85 per barrel to $39.50 in just twelve month and sent our economy into a recession. As this painful episode reminds us, the U.S. reliance on imported oil imperils our national security as well as our economy.
During the autumn of 1980, I was an infantry platoon commander in the U.S. Marine Corps. My platoon was part of a Marine expeditionary unit positioned just outside the Persian Gulf in the Gulf of Oman. We spent 45 days in position prepared, if need be, to seize the strategically located islands in the Strait of Hormuz to keep the strait open to oil tankers heading to the west in order to prevent an economic catastrophe.
Unfortunately, the “oil shock” of 1979 was not an anomaly. Since the beginning of the 20th century, energy security has had an inextricable relationship to national security. For much of that time the U.S. was a net energy exporter so this was not always readily apparent to Americans but that all changed in 1973 when the first “oil shock” occurred. Middle Eastern countries implemented an oil export embargo in conjunction with the “1973 Arab-Israeli War. This oil shock hammered our now energy import dependent economy into a recession with significant national security implications which I well recall from my days as a young soldier stationed in Germany. Virtually all of our training came to an abrupt halt as fuel shortages immobilized our tanks and other equipment such as armored personnel carriers. This point has been repeatedly driven home in the years since 1973 as the second “oil shock” in 1979 and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991, which resulted in my second trip, courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps to the Middle East, demonstrate. The advent of the 21st century has not marked a fundamental change in this relationship of access to oil for economic and national security as my deployment to Iraq in 2006 only too clearly illustrates. Now we even have a terrorist group, the so-called “Islamic State,” controlling and funding much of its activities through its seizure of some oil production facilities.
Today, about 25 percent of the oil consumed in the U.S. is imported from countries outside North America. The good news is that this percentage is decreasing thanks to new oil discoveries and extraction techniques used here at home. In addition, technology is also improving oil production from our North American neighbors, whose close relationship with the U.S. makes them reliable suppliers and key partners with the US in assuring North American energy security. Even though this percentage of imports is decreasing, it remains too high and we need to make it a matter of national priority to develop energy resources that ultimately end our reliance on energy produced outside of North America; particularly the Middle East.
To do so, we need to encourage more domestic production of oil and natural gas, increase our use of alternative fuels, and further energy production in Canada and Mexico to attain our goal of North American energy independence. Some such steps include the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and further efforts to develop our own abundant domestic resources. These are common sense policies that will improve our future national prosperity and security. I also truly am convinced that we can do all these things in an environmentally careful and thoughtful way that does not short change our quality of life. If we take this approach, we can once and for all end our reliance on Persian Gulf oil imports and dramatically lessen our dependence on those upon whom we cannot depend. We owe this to future generations of U.S military personnel so that they do not find themselves as I did back in 1980, 1991 and 2006, preparing to fight, or fighting to keep oil flowing out of the Middle East.
It is time to end our addiction to foreign oil.
Mike Coffman represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District in the U.S House of Representatives.
Rep. Mike Coffman
Brighton Standard Blade
September 10, 2014