The Russians have provided us a rare opportunity

Posted: Dec 27, 2001 12:00 AM
If duplicitous pooh-bahs with restive Islamist populations were major overseers of the food we eat or the water we drink, the government long ago would have fixed the situation to make us food and water independent. So why the reluctance - in some quarters the refusal - to move the nation away from heavy reliance on precisely such pooh-bahs for the petroleum we use, toward energy independence? Here's why: Just in time to forestall sufficient righting action, prices for crude decline and Americans turn their attention to more important matters like basketball and Monica Lewinsky and this year's hot color for men's neckwear. And it's happening again. Per-barrel prices for crude oil have plunged nearly 50 percent since the post-9/11 surge to $30. Almost single-handedly, an ambitious Russia hungering (a) for cash and (b) for favor with the West has broken the back of the 11-nation heavily Arabist OPEC cartel. God bless it, Russia has ramped up production and largely resisted Arabist pleas to cut supply and thereby hold crude oil prices at artificial heights. As the world's second largest petroleum exporter, Russia has driven crude prices down. At the same time, it may move America from a dependence on Saudi (etc.) jerks for oil, to a dependence on the new Russian Mafia. That would mean an American dependence on foreign oil still - and a mere shifting from Middle Eastern tinpot dictators to Russian heavies with the power to blackmail and the ability to whipsaw the global economy. Let us not forget the 1973-74 OPEC-inspired oil crisis, spearheaded by none other than a Saudi regime we are salvaging yet again. Nor should we forget the Saudis' 1976 nationalization of Western-based Aramco for $2.8 billion - at the time about 1 percent of its estimated market value. And, oh yes, there was the Gulf War against the dread Saddam. Today, oil accounts for 40 percent of the energy we use - 58 percent of that oil foreign, 17 percent of it from Saudi Arabia alone. (We import 700,000 barrels - $10 million worth - from Iraq per day.) Yet the Saudis are reluctant debutantes in the war against Osama, himself an exiled Saudi national; even now, when they're supposed to be on our side, they want more for the oil they sell us. And soon we may be back at war with Iraq, which may sit on oil reserves second only to Saudi Arabia and Russia. President Bush has noted that "an integral piece of homeland security is energy independence." More than integral - crucial. Jimmy Carter told us to conserve and turn out the lights. Today his ideological offspring (senators Daschle, Kerry, Kennedy, Clinton, etc.) preach solar and wind, and insist they will not permit drilling on even one one-hundredth of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Thereby, they work to give the Saudis and/or the Russians the continued power to turn our lights out for us. Both the president and the vice president have extensive experience in the energy industry. They did not make the case for energy independence with particularly persuasive power on the campaign trail last year. They need to make it now. Most congressional Republicans and sufficient Democrats are with them. Arctic drilling is only a piece of the larger picture. Today oil companies are looking for more supply off the West African coast and in the Caspian Sea; in Suriname, Angola, Argentina and the Philippines. Those locations are all overseas. To gain energy self-sufficiency, the United States needs to do vastly more for itself right here in River City. We need to.... - Look in Alaska, the Rocky Mountain basin, and offshore - wherever; - Greatly enhance our refining, transmission, liquefied natural gas, and storage capacity; - With due consideration for the environment, return much of our potential domestic petroleum supply to within our legal reach. - In the light of recent developments here and abroad (California, Enron, war), go slow on energy deregulation - making sure it will work more efficiently and inexpensively than the regulated environment; - Seek out alternative (agri?) energy sources and alternative uses and technologies for existing ones, notably nuclear and coal; - Consort with the automobile industry for the development of vastly more efficient engines - even, perhaps, engines powered by natural gas or engines not petroleum-fueled. The Russians have taken our energy bacon out of the fire; here's hoping they cotton to us more than the Saudis do. Yet, rather than being lulled once more into energy complacency, America must use the opportunity the Russians have provided to move toward true energy independence. Why should we allow ourselves to be jerked around on the energy that drives our economy any more than we do on the food and water on which we rely? It's time, and everybody knows it. Let's roll.