The benefits of friendly oil

One of the promises every president since Richard Nixon has failed to deliver on is the recurring pledge to somehow free the nation from its ever-growing “dependence on foreign oil.”

Until fairly recently, the need to find other ways to meet our growing energy needs was driven primarily by national security rather than economic or environmental concerns; both are often in conflict with worries about instability or outright hostility in those nations on which we have depended for so long.

In the early ’70s there was a belief that nuclear power might replace oil as a source of energy. Later in the decade, the spike in oil prices following the Arab oil embargo convinced the Carter administration to waste billions in an attempt to develop new unconventional domestic sources that made little sense even at the time.

Since then, politicians have tried to “wean” us from our dependence on oil by artificially raising prices, using regulations to hamstring oil and coal producers, subsidizing or even mandating more fuel-efficient technologies and trying to persuade voters that wind, solar and alternative sources of fuel are the answer.

Most energy experts believe that regardless of our ability to replace oil in the longer term, in our lifetimes we will continue to need oil to fuel our economy and to maintain a 21st-century lifestyle. The question is not whether America needs oil, but where we get it. There are really three main sources: We can buy it from our enemies; find and develop reserves within the confines of our own borders or in the waters off our shores; or buy it from stable, friendly nations.

However, powerful forces within our own society are hostile to any energy development. As a result, our politicians are increasingly hostile to drilling, building pipelines to move oil to refineries and building new refineries. These same politicians have regulated the nuclear option almost to extinction and are doing everything they can to kill the coal industry. 

Fortunately for America’s energy consumers, however, the market and rapidly advancing technology has led to the discovery and availability of oil from friendly nations capable of both meeting our needs and protecting us from a catastrophic breakdown in supplies from countries that are neither stable nor friendly.

Few Americans realize it, but our major supplier of “foreign” oil these days is not Saudi Arabia, Venezuela or Nigeria, but Canada. Our northern neighbor provides one out of every six barrels of oil we import and hopes to meet more of our needs in the relatively near future … if we let her.

Most of this oil comes from what are known as the Alberta Oil Sands, which now provide us with something like a million and a half barrels a day and may provide us with twice this much within a few years. This is perhaps the most stable source of oil available to us outside our borders and provides tremendous economic benefits to both Canadians and Americans.

House Energy Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), however, has been trying to stop the importation of this oil for years. He’s amended our laws in a way he hoped would keep the Defense Department from using Canadian oil and, since that didn’t work, has insisted that the State Department deny permission for a Canadian/American consortium to build a pipeline that would produce 100,000 U.S. jobs and allow Canadian oil to flow quickly, cheaply and in increasing quantities to U.S. refineries.

Waxman says Alberta’s oil is just too “dirty,” in that it takes a lot of water to produce and because its production generates those hated greenhouse gases. The Canadians point out that not only is the production getting more efficient by the day and that Alberta producers are operating under more stringent environmental regulations than oil producers almost anywhere else, but that oil production in Alberta accounts for a scant 5 percent of that country’s greenhouse gases and but .05 percent of that produced in the U.S. as compared to, say, the 28 percent from coal.

None of these facts matter; Waxman is hostile to virtually all sources of energy. He’s on a continuing tear against domestic energy production and now wants to cripple Canadian oil producers as well.

If Waxman has his way, we’ll all be riding bicycles or be in hock to the Arabs while our Canadian friends go back to trapping for a living. 

Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.