It seems everyone knows who is to blame for the United States' failure to maximize its energy resources to become independent of imports: the government.
Oil and natural gas industry officials have been critical of the Obama administration for its attempts to regulate the industry and limit ability to explore government lands for additional resources, while advocates for renewable resources complain the government still caters too much to fossil fuel producers.
That divide shows no sign of closing, as both sides insist they don't want the government to decide a winner in the energy debate.
Meanwhile the struggle between “oilies” and “greenies” likely will continue as it has since President Richard Nixon first talked about weaning the United States off foreign oil almost four decades ago.
Politicians since that time have promised energy independence but none has made much progress in getting the country there.
Billionaire oilman T. Boone Pickens said a ready supply of cheap gasoline has kept the U.S. from making a move to become energy independent.
“It was cheap enough they didn't care where you got it. They just kept taking it from OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries),” he said. “Today, politicians say, ‘I'm trying to use natural gas for heavy-duty trucks, but I can't force them to choose a winner.' OK.
“If you don't pick a winner, you pick OPEC.”
Pickens said there are only two ways to fuel the country's transportation needs: either continue relying on OPEC crude or embrace his plan to switch the nation's trucking fleet to natural gas.
“You can only replace diesel with natural gas. You can't do it with a battery. A battery can't move an 18 wheeler,” he said. “So you just have two fuels. One of them is ours, one of them is theirs. That tells you they don't know what they're talking about when they say I just want them to pick winners.”
Pickens insists energy independence could be coming for North America, not just the United States.
He has suggested a North American energy alliance with Mexico and Canada.
“We provide a market for them, and they provide a resource for us,” Pickens said.
That notion has proved to be just as divisive, as evidenced by the debate over TransCanada Corp.'s proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
The transcontinental pipeline would carry crude oil from Canada and North Dakota to refineries along the Gulf Coast, but opponents argue the project is not worth the environmental risks that would come with it.
Washington-based environmental group Friends of the Earth has said it opposes the pipeline because it “could devastate ecosystems and pollute water sources and would jeopardize public health.”
Debate over the project has become another political issue, with environmentalists cheering President Barack Obama for rejecting a permit for the pipeline in January and industry officials rallying around Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has promised to approve the project if he is elected in November.
Subsidies and credits
Another point of contention is tax credits and subsidies.
Obama has tried unsuccessfully to eliminate tax incentives available to oil and gas companies, while industry officials have questioned the viability of renewable energy sources without government subsidies.
Continental Resources Inc. CEO Harold Hamm told a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee in September that the industry needs to maintain tax policies that let companies keep their own money to drill.
“America is endowed with an estimated 139.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil — enough to replace Persian Gulf imports for the next 50 years,” Hamm said. “We also have undiscovered technically recoverable natural gas of 1445.3 trillion cubic feet.
“I encourage you to make sure we have sound policies in place so that this energy revolution continues to produce jobs, security and economic benefit for all Americans.”
CONTRIBUTING: ADAM WILMOTH, ENERGY EDITOR