U.S. Oil Dependency: Our Greatest Threat

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U.S. Oil Dependency: Our Greatest Threat

In Greek mythology, Achilles was the heroic and nearly invincible Trojan warrior and the central character of the epic Homeric poem Iliad. A demigod, his single vulnerability was his ankle, which Paris’ arrow rightly found and thus brought him to his prophetic demise. In the United States, the self-proclaimed greatest country on Earth, oil is our Achilles heel and thanks to our lack of a modern energy policy, we are completely and unavoidably dependent upon it. Oil is a heavily exploited global commodity, and our reliance on it, regardless of the source, is a national security threat. In a televised speech on July 15, 1979, President Jimmy Carter described the United States’ dependence on foreign oil as a threat to “our economic independence and the very security of our Nation,” and a "clear and present danger" to its national security. Additionally, in a monologue by Jon Stewart, he demonstrated that, beginning with President Nixon, eight consecutive presidential administrations have futilely attempted to reduce the U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Further, as Noam Chomsky points out, in a 1954 paper from the president’s National Security Council, "American oil operations are, for all practical purposes, instruments of our foreign policy" (311). This continues today as evident by the use of the phrase “promoting democracy” as a way for the Bush administration to secure oil supplies in Iraq (Richie and Rogers 158). Still, the threat to our national security is as great as it has ever been and thus presents a strategic vulnerability in our foreign policies. The United States is now wholly dependent on oil as its primary source of energy, and without drastic and hasty changes to its energy policy, this country faces a dismal future. Here are the facts: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, United States oil production peaked in 1970 at 9.6 million barrels per day (bbl/day), and today stands at 5.3 bbl/day. Meanwhile, our (estimated) oil consumption for 2009 was 18.69 bbl/day (“United States Economy”). This equates to a sizeable imbalance of three times what we import versus what we produce, and ranks us as the largest oil consumer in the world. In addition, the transportation sector relies on oil for 97 percent of its energy needs, and accounts for 68 percent of U.S. oil consumption (Smith and Kelly A19). Oil is engrained in our society, and it is in our blood thanks to American ingenuity. The birth and ensuing oil revolution began in 1859 near the small town of Titusville, Pennsylvania. In an attempt to find a substitute for whale oil (an illuminating fuel), Edwin L. Drake succeeded in extracting crude oil using a primitive drilling machine (which would be the prototype for modern drilling equipment) (Yergin 27). His successful operation would launch the “Black Gold Rush” and push crude oil into the forefront of fuels and crude byproducts. Barring the pollution created by the production and usage of oil, it has proven to be a magnificent energy source. As Bill McKibben writes, “one barrel of oil yields as much energy as twenty-five thousand hours of human manual labor – more than a decade of human labor per barrel” (27). Unfortunately, oil is a finite resource, and we are swiftly headed towards its inevitable depletion. In 1956, a geophysicist by the name of M. King Hubbert made a prediction that oil production in the lower forty-eight U.S. states would peak in the early 1970s (25). His prognostication was proven true in 1971, as the United States’ oil production did indeed peak before beginning its decline, and the country now imports nearly 60 percent of the oil it uses (Deutch, Schlesinger, and Victor 14). There is also a primary theory named after the geophysicist, called “Hubbert’s Peak,” which postulates the oil-production of the planet, as a whole, flows in a bell-shaped curve. The oil in a specific region of the planet is finite, and when a...
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