THE flow toward North American energy independence has at times been a trickle and at times more of an ooze. It could be more of a torrent.
It should be.
Not since the year in which Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president has the United States been free of reliance on foreign sources of energy. In 2005, U.S. consumption of foreign energy peaked at more than 60 percent. The flow in the other direction — toward greater independence — is taking place in spite of national energy policy rather than because of it.
Through extensive reporting over the past two Sundays, The Oklahoman's Jay F. Marks, Paul Monies and Adam Wilmoth have chronicled the elusive quest for energy independence. Readers have been given the views of key energy industry players, analysts and the environmental community.
We give our views today in support of a diversified, rational energy policy that will take this country (with assistance from Canada) to a place that's free of dependence on energy from hostile regions of the world.
Last January, President Barack Obama extolled an “all-of-the-above” strategy for energy policy. But his administration hasn't pursued such a strategy. It has waged a war on coal. It covets state regulation of hydraulic fracturing and other petroleum exploration and production practices. It overhypes renewable fuels.
The failure to achieve energy independence is a bipartisan failure. For 40 years, Congress and presidential administrations (including two with strong ties to the petroleum industry) have failed to move the needle toward independence.
Critics deride the current administration's policy as “none of the above.” For example, Obama has given only begrudging acknowledgement that running more vehicles on natural gas would not only benefit the environment but promote energy independence. The federal government has been laggard in converting its own fleets to compressed natural gas. The states, led by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, have taken the lead on this initiative.
Meantime, the administration has pushed the greening of America's military. This is not an unworthy pursuit, but it smacks of pandering just as the government's investment in Solyndra and similar schemes smacks of crony capitalism. As they tout wind, solar and biofuels, Obama and his cohorts pretend that fossil fuels won't continue to dominate for many years to come. The key issue is the origin point of those fuels.
Energy policy should indeed be an all-of-the-above strategy. Wind and solar should be encouraged to produce more electricity. Natural gas should be encouraged to run more cars and trucks. American coal shouldn't be left in the pits.
National energy policy discussions too often devolve into false choices. An example is that renewables can't gain a larger share of the power-generation mix unless fossil fuel sources are discouraged through official policy. Wind energy has been stymied by the market, not by policy. Natural gas is now so cheap that the economics of wind power are lacking. This won't always be true.
North America's energy consumers want options. They should be allowed to make decisions free of the kind of coercion that characterizes Obamacare's individual mandate. Those who want power supplied by wind should be encouraged to so do. Those who want to run cars and trucks on CNG or liquefied natural gas should be encouraged to do so.
Achieving North American energy independence doesn't mean moving toward a monopoly in which domestic oil and gas producers will get all the gold. Independence means giving consumers more choice and less fear of supply breakdowns. As it is, Americans have much to fear from instability in the Mideast and the potential for volatile price fluctuations. Independence would ease those fears. The U.S. spends $50 billion a year securing access to Middle Eastern oil. Independence would lessen those expenses.
Oklahomans have self-serving reasons to promote oil independence and the greater consumption of natural gas. People in Wyoming and West Virginia have self-serving reasons to promote coal. Environmental groups have self-serving reasons to promote wind and solar. In the end, though, all Americans are better off if they can choose among energy sources — coal, gas, oil, wind, solar, biofuels — produced on this continent rather than having to depend on foreign suppliers for a third or more of our energy.
Energy independence promotes supply stability. It's good for the economy. It's good for national security. This country is blessed with abundant natural resources, including wind and sunshine. Let's reverse the flow of cash to foreign nations. Let's sell our gas to them! Let's gradually and responsibly move toward renewables.
Let's make it our mission to achieve energy independence, just as we made it our mission to put people on the moon. Let's open the spigots of innovation and entrepreneurship. Let's allow choice, diversity and freedom to dominate national energy policy.