Burning U.S. Oil Faster Means More Pollution, More Dependence

So I'm re-entering the policy world after a brief hiatus at home with my wife and newborn daughter, when I spy a blog entry that provides evidence that some fellow Americans remain all-too ignorant about the realities of oil supply and demand in the 21st century.

Specifically, I noted an entry on The Corner, the National Review blog, claiming that the way to stick it to OPEC is to vote against a green (i.e., conservationist) agenda. This is exactly wrong.

Why? Because we don’t hold any of the high cards in the global oil game. Check out this great map from Environmental Action: Who has the oil? Map

While I admit that a portion of U.S. reserves is off-limits due to community or environmental concerns, focusing on this fact ignores the big picture summed up in the map above. The reality is that the U.S. holds a paltry fraction of the world’s oil reserves.

According to a recent report from the industry-supported National Petroleum Council, assuming 2005 production levels our conventional oil reserves will last about 12 years. And the Saudis? 75 years. And what about other regimes that we shouldn’t rely on so heavily for this resource? Like Venezuela? 52 years. Iran? A whopping 87 years.

If we accelerate production, on the other hand, our 12-year production span shrinks. That will only deepen our dependence on countries with the trump cards in this global game. Of course, it will also increase global warming pollution, especially if we consider dirtier, costlier alternatives to conventional oil.

The supply side of this equation offers little solace for those concerned about national security and the environment. Better to pull back the lens and look for opportunities to cut energy waste, for example by boosting auto efficiency and providing consumers – especially in suburban areas -- with comfortable transportation choices besides cars and trucks.  As a recent government study shows, more than 60% of the energy generated to fuel our economy is “lost," in other words wasted.

That's why making more efficient use of oil is the surest way to curb our dependence on OPEC.

About the Authors

Deron Lovaas

Director, EEFA, Resilient Communities, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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