Last week Mitt Romney released his plan for energy independence. His idea is that over the next decade or so North American oil production could nearly double from 15 to 28 million barrels a day. As Ashley Parker reported in theNew York Times, Romney figures if we can increase drilling it will eventually equal the amount of fuel we use:
"The net net of all this, as you can see, is by 2020, we're able to produce somewhere between 28 million barrels per day of oil and we won't need to buy any oil from the Middle East or Venezuela or anywhere else where we don't want to," Mr. Romney said.
For a sophisticated private sector mogul, Mitt seems to have forgotten that we buy and sell oil in a global marketplace. Moreover, the companies that produce oil tend to be multi-national, and therefore focus on their corporate interest, not America's national interest. True energy independence is not a realistic goal in a global economy. Producing more oil in America does not mean that the energy we burn here will all be made here. Unless, of course Mitt wants to nationalize the oil companies and force them to sell their oil only to Americans -- sort of hard to imagine.
Like a sports car driving on the wrong side of the road, Mitt Romney's version of "drill baby drill" would have the entire country heading in the wrong direction. Romney's plan would end federal control over land use on government lands and give that control to state governments. This would end a century of national control of these lands. Under national control, only a small portion of government land has been used for energy production. According to Eric Lipton and Clifford Krauss of the New York Times:
The federal government owns about 28 percent of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States. But as of March 2012, only about 37 million acres were under lease for oil and gas operations, of which about 16.3 million acres have active oil and gas production or exploration, according to the Interior Department.
The careful stewardship of undeveloped land by the federal government could end with state control. This is more of the simple minded, shortsighted mantra of drill baby drill that we heard from McCain and Palin in 2008 and we will now be hearing more of until November. Romney is also out accusing Obama of trying to raise the price of fossil fuels to make renewables more competitive. It's pretty clear that Obama's energy policy is to try to generate energy from any sources we can find. While I think we should focus on renewables, Romney is suddenly only interested in fossil fuels. Forget about global warming, forget about the long-term preservation of ecosystems needed for human survival, Mitt has an election to win and he is determined to win it at any cost.
Any look at the data on population and energy use will tell you that both will be growing for the remainder of the century. As China and India continue to develop, the two billion people living in those places will have a thirst for energy that will make ours look trivial in comparison. Energy independence is, of course, an illusion, since the oil, gas and coal we extract from the crust of the planet will be sold to the highest bidder -- wherever they appear in the global economy. Just because an oil company "drills baby drills" in the United States doesn't require them to "sell baby sell" in this country. They'll sell to whoever will pay them the most... why wouldn't they?
What is absolutely astonishing is the belief that persists across America that $4 a gallon gasoline is caused by the lack of drilling for oil in America. The fact that millions of cars and massive amounts of energy have been added by the growing economies in China and India never seems to enter the discussion. The demand for energy worldwide is growing. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration:
"China and India... continue to lead world economic growth and energy demand growth... Since 1990, energy consumption in both countries as a share of total world energy use has increased significantly, and together they accounted for about 10 percent of total world energy consumption in 1990 and 21 percent in 2008. Although energy demand faltered in many parts of the world during the recession, robust growth continued in China and India, whose economies expanded by 12.4 percent and 6.9 percent, respectively, in 2009. U.S. energy consumption declined by 5.3 percent in 2009, and energy use in China is estimated to have surpassed that of the United States for the first time.
The Energy Information Administration's projections over the next two decades predict continued economic growth in China and India, and according to these projections: "... their combined energy use more than doubles, accounting for 31 percent of total world energy consumption in 2035. In 2035, China's energy demand is 68 percent higher than U.S. energy demand." In 1990 we used over three times as much energy as China and nine times as much energy as India. China now consumes more energy than the United States. World energy consumption has nearly doubled in the last two decades. The simple laws of supply and demand will continue to drive the price of energy up as long as we continue to depend on fossil fuels that are expensive to mine and expensive to transport. Energy prices are increasing due to the control of energy resources by a few large companies along with massive increases in demand. Our addiction to energy throughout the economy contributes to the price growth and volatility experienced by the average American energy consumer.
Drill baby drill is a cynical and misleading response to a complicated question. If we want lower energy costs we must look to new technologies for energy generation and distribution. Not only does fossil fuel mining and burning damage the environment and cause global warming, but there is no way for increased supply to keep up with increased demand. Moreover, I am confident that Romney has seen the numbers and knows this already. This is not to say that we will run out of fossil fuels in the near future, but even with shale gas, these fuels are not getting easier or cheaper to extract or transport.
Our goal should not be energy independence, but a reduction in the proportion of our GDP spent on energy. Lower cost renewable energy, smart grid technology, distributed energy generation and increased energy efficiency will enable us to reduce the cost of energy. Drill baby drill and energy independence should be treated as meaningless, cynical political slogans.