Energy Independence for America Is a Worthy Goal -- But It's a Death Wish If We Do It with Oil & Gas
This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.
Can we drill our way to energy independence? Republicans (and some Democrats) have long proclaimed we can -- and now a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the U.S. may be poised to become the world leader in extracting fossil fuels like oil and gas, overtaking Saudi Arabia in the coming decade. The report declares that we could even achieve energy independence in the next 20 or so years.
While "energy independence" may seem like welcome news, it helps to dig a little deeper. "That doesn't mean we'll stop importing oil; rather, we'll be exporting so much coal and natural gas that it will offset our oil imports," writes Joshua Delaughter at Ars Technica. "Those imports will also be kept in check by a combination of increased fuel efficiency and expanded extraction within the US."
The overall conclusion of the report is that the world will remain addicted to fossil fuels for the indefinite future. This is in part because of subsidies. Around the globe, governments are subsidizing their use to the tune of over half a trillion dollars. That's over six times the subsidies given to renewable energy, and up 30 percent from the year before.
This is bad news for the future of humanity and our planet. A continued addiction to fossil fuels means catastrophic climate change. The IEA report even states, "No more than one-third of proven reserves of fossil fuels can be consumed prior to 2050 if the world is to achieve the 2°C goal" (the line at which, if exceeded, many climatologists have warned will commit us to extremely dangerous planetary changes).
The problem is, the fossil fuel industry hopes to extract every last drop that can be drilled or mined out of the earth. And some of our elected officials are happy to lend a hand.
Lorne Stockman writes at Oil Change International:
The tar sands industry has enough projects producing, under construction and approved to blow well past the climate limits prescribed by the IEA. Nevertheless even more projects are lined up for regulatory approval leading to a possible trebling of production capacity over and above the IEA limit.
Globally, the oil industry as a whole is also lining up enough production capacity to cook the climate several times over. According to one analysis, there could be as much as 110.6 million barrels of oil production capacity in 2020, while the IEA says that less than 90 million b/d is plenty.
Remember the Keystone XL pipeline that environmentalists (and many others) have been fighting to halt? This is why the fight is so crucial.
So-called energy independence is a bit of a myth in today's world where fossil fuels are sold on the international market. Just because we are able to extract more doesn't mean that the products stay in the country or help to ease fluctuating prices for things like gas. A July story in the Economist detailed how liquified natural gas technology means the U.S. may be exporting a lot more of its gas to the highest bidder. "Whereas American gas currently costs about $2.50 mBtu, European oil-indexed pipeline gas goes for around $12 mBtu, and in Asia LNG can fetch $16 mBtu or more," the article reports.
Not only is the idea of energy independence misleading, but not everyone agrees with the numbers. A report from Food & Water Watch states that our projected amount of natural gas reserves are grossly overstated: