The energy problem is not new. For the past thirty-five years, seven presidents, beginning with Richard Nixon, have called for the U.S. to free ourselves from dependence on foreign oil. We in fact have gone backwards. We are more dependent today than we were thirty years ago. We have also made very little progress in implementing energy alternatives that strip oil of it’s strategic signficance on a world wide basis. In other words, over the past thirty years we have had a lot of political rhetoric, but very little progress.
Here is an opportunity for conservatives to frame a long term solution to the problem. We can and should take the lead! I suggest a three pronged approach.
Number one long term priority: A commitment to set us free from our dependence on oil as a transportation fuel.
We need this to be our guiding and impassioned objective for three reasons. Number one, for economic reasons. We cannot drill our way out of the cost of oil. World demand will grow by 50% over the next 20 years. As demand grows, there will be significant pressure on price. The added drilling we can do will help temporarily in world supply but it will not solve the problem long term. Ninety-seven percent of our oil is used for transportation. Three percent is used for producing electricity. Wind, solar, coal, natural gas, and nuclear are used to produce electricity. We need alternatives to our fuels for transportation. We could work out a perfect solution with electric cars as one alternative where we rely on cheap electricity produced from nuclear power to recharge cars at night. We might also develop something even more far reaching and innovative such as genetically altered micro-organisms that actually produce hydrogen and ethanol. Craig Vetner, who mapped the genetic code, is actually working on such an experiment today. There are innumerable solutions. Here is where the government must provide the inspiration for innovators to move forward with creative alternatives. Most importantly, when we say this is our number one priority, we have to mean it.
The second reason from our independence from oil is political. Oil is the currency of terrorism. Oil is also the currency used to fund our problems in the Middle East. We spend vast amounts of money to insure oil lanes around the world will remain open if an armed conflict does erupt. We also lose moral credibility in the world when people see we support petro-dictators like Saudi Arabia just to insure they keep up their supply of oil to our country.
The third reason is military. If OPEC suddenly decided to turn off the pump like they did in 1973, we are vulnerable. Yes, we have our strategic oil reserves, but these are limited. We need alternatives to oil. The Department of Defense gets it and is working very hard to reduce the military’s dependence on oil, which started in earnest under Rumsfeld.
Number two long term priority: A commitment to drill here and drill now to demonstrate our willingness to compete on the world scene for oil reserves and have capacity inside our country in case a world conflict shuts off supply lines. Conservatives can be both conservationists and argue for drilling here and drilling now. How? Slant drilling is one example. For instance, I live on the coast of Southern California. A large parcel of land was recently sold in California to a hedge fund in New York. The investors plan to utilize a small portion of the land for a drilling process that will reach oil reserves miles off the coast of Central California. In return, they will donate the largest portion of the land to the community. They only need a small portion for drilling. Slant drilling allows you to reach oil reserves at an angle miles away and go very deep. It is safe, reliable, and has almost no impact on the aesthetics of the environment. There is no need to build an off-shore oil rig. We need the oil and it will demonstrate to the world our willingness to compete in the world oil supply market. We could develop similar criteria in our search for oil in the shale that currently exists in Colorado and Utah. We establish how we can be both sound in conservation and sound in exploration.
Number three long term priority: Incentivize oil companies, using free market solutions, to develop energy alternatives. The number three priority is the link to both one and two above. Let me start with context. The petro-industrial complex in America and the world does not want change. They have it easy right now. Prices are high and oil demand is increasing. They will lobby for no change. This is exactly what they have done for the past thirty years. They also don’t want to go extinct with the advance of new technologies that will set us free from oil. They will fight hard and have the resources to do. Here is a thought, which I put forward in concept and suggest more thinking. Why not link companies rights to drill to some type of energy credit that is created in a free market system? If the energy company demonstrates practical advances in energy alternatives for transportation, they are issued credits that allow them to drill in areas that would otherwise be off-limits. Before criticizing the idea, think about the incentive I am attempting to create here. I suggest a linkage to move us from the old way of producing energy for transportation to a new way of doing so. A mandate is a good idea but we need ways to put the mandate into action. Energy credits for investment in alternative energy may be a way to get there. I plan to develop this idea in the next article and welcome others who might like to contribute. Think of it this way. If we just allow more drilling, we in essence may only be feeding our addiction to oil. If we link more drilling to actual weaning of our addiction, then we know the “addict” is making progress toward the ultimate goal of energy independence from oil as our primary transportation fuel. Incentives help that can be put in a free market system in the form of energy credits.
Conservatives are leaders in innovation and good ideas. We have been lacking in a long term energy policy. Let’s not get trapped in just providing short term solutions, but instead, let’s put forward a strategic vision that inspires the American people and provides practical steps to move us to our ultimate objective – freedom from oil’s reign as the king of transportation fuels.
Doug Wilson is the the co-author, with Edwin Feulner, of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.
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