As we approach the first Presidential debate, it has become clear that there are three major issues in this campaign: the economy, national security and, of course, energy. Of those three, only energy reaches across the other two. It is the single most important foreign policy question we face.
Today we are importing 70% of the oil we use every day. At more than $100 per barrel that adds up to nearly $700 billion per year that Americans are sending overseas, that’s about $1.9 billion a day, seven days a week.
The $700 billion Wall Street bailout proposed by the Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, is the amount we are spending on foreign oil EVERY YEAR. Keep that in mind: the Wall Street bailout is one year of foreign oil imports.
The economic burden of sending nearly $2 billion every day overseas has become blindingly apparent: Sheikhs in the Middle East are buying up our major financial institutions, which means your mortgage might well be held by someone in Abu Dhabi or Qatar.
Need a new car? Good luck on trading in your used SUV or light truck. You know all that. You have to deal with it every day.
That’s the economic side of our oil addiction.
In addition to the economic brick wall into which we are driving, we should carefully consider, as a national security issue, where that oil is coming from. The single largest oil exporter to the U.S. is Canada. That’s fine.
But of the top 15 countries from which we import oil they include (according to the U.S. Department of Energy) the following:
Venezuela (4th largest exporter to the U.S.)
The notion of Hugo Chavez “hosting” the Russian Navy to conduct exercises in the Caribbean Sea and allowing Russian anti-submarine aircraft to be based in Venezuela should be sending us to the history books to re-read the Monroe Doctrine.
Add to that list the big numbers from the countries in the Middle East. We are depending on a stable supply of oil from one of the least politically stable regions in the world.
Angola? Azerbaijan? Algeria? CHAD?
If ever there was a national security threat, that list of the top fifteen is it.
It appears that the massive spending bill which will be adopted by the House and Senate before they leave will, effectively, lift the ban on drilling on the outer continental shelf. That’s good news, and a good start, but that doesn’t get us to energy independence. I have been an oilman all my life. But I know that there is not enough oil left in the ground or off our coasts to solve this problem.
I’m for everything that’s American: drilling, hydro, bio, solar, nuclear, geo-thermal, wind and natural gas – whatever. And we should be full out working on new technologies to fuel our personal and fleet cars, our busses and trucks. But that technology doesn’t exist yet. So, we need a bridge to get us there.
That is the heart and soul of the Pickens Plan.
We have abundant wind and abundant natural gas. The Wind Corridor in the Midwest stretches from Texas all the way to the Canadian border. The raw material is free, the technology exists and building wind farms in rural America will not only reduce the need to use natural gas to fuel power generating plants, but has the immediate effect of providing well-paying jobs to folks in small towns all across this huge region.
One of the largest wind farms in the nation is located in the town of Sweetwater, Texas. The population has grown from under 10,000 to over 12,000 and nearly one-quarter of the jobs are wind-related – everything from construction to maintenance; from trucking to education (the community college now offers an associate degree in wind energy engineering). Almost all of these jobs have been created by small businesses and it is model we can repeat from Texas to the Canadian border.
The second step in the Pickens Plan is to have companies and governments move to convert their fleets from gasoline and diesel to natural gas. Natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline, it is cheaper than gasoline, it burns cleaner than gasoline and the technology and manufacturing know-how already exists. Best of all, we’ve got plenty of it right here in the United States.
There are natural gas-fueled private vehicles available now. In fact, I own one. But the time and money to build out an infrastructure to add a natural gas pump island to every gasoline station is unreasonable.
Fleets are the target. Think about an express delivery truck. Or a cable company truck. Or the cars driven by building, health, and fire inspectors in cities all across the country. They spend their days in the same area and they go back to a central location every night.
The big number, though, comes from over-the-road trucks. Fully 30% of our oil imports go into moving goods via truck on our interstate highways. And fueling long haul trucks – at truck stops along the Interstates – is a far different, and far simpler challenge to overcome than fueling family vehicles.
Typically fleets turn over every three to five years. If, in five years, virtually every municipal, county and utility fleet were to run on natural gas, we could reduce our dependence on imported oil by 38% over the next decade.
We have the resources and the technology to sharply reduce our need for foreign oil. We can do it. All we need is the will of the American people to show our elected officials in Washington that we want them to show the leadership necessary to allow us to protect ourselves against the economic and national security dangers of importing foreign oil.