While Americans warily eye gasoline prices marching towards $4 per gallon, it becomes more apparent each day how acute these effects are on manufacturers, airlines, small and large businesses, and average Americans.
Only 10 years ago, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline was just above a $1. It is clear that our country’s need for energy security and access is more crucial than ever.
The truth is America has abundant energy resources. We simply choose not to develop most of them. We cannot, and must not, ignore key energy resources available to us here at home.
Working with Congress, President Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which specifies a national mandatory fuel standard of 35 miles per gallon by 2020 for new vehicles. This will save billions of gallons of gasoline.
It also requires fuel producers to supply at least 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel in 2022.
These are good steps toward ensuring our future energy security. The year 2020 seems a long way away when many of our nation’s industries and citizens are struggling now.
A recently released study of oil and gas resources on federal lands and limitations on their development paints a dramatic picture in an era when energy access and security are so important.
The report, the third in a series of congressionally mandated scientific inventories, identified 31 billion barrels of oil and 231 trillion cubic feet of natural gas on these federal lands, mostly in the West.
However, the study estimates that of the 279 million acres of onshore federal mineral lands that contain these energy resources, 60 percent are off limits to development and 23 percent face restrictions on development, limiting the amount of oil and gas that can be produced and when.
In terms that every driver can appreciate, that means that of the estimated 598 billion gallons of gasoline and 214 billion gallons of diesel that could be produced from these oil resources, about 372 billion gallons of gasoline and 133 billion gallons of diesel currently can’t be tapped due to prohibitions and restrictions.
In addition, oil shale deposits in the U.S. represent potential reserves that may be twice as large as those of Saudi Arabia. Yet Congress has prohibited us from taking the steps necessary to make this vast resource available for development.
Some feel renewables are the answer. Renewables such as wind, solar, hydroelectric, biomass and geothermal will make up a growing part of our energy portfolio.
But renewables will not solve our supply problem. Projected to supply 12 percent of our energy by 2030, renewables face similar challenges as oil and gas: they affect the environment and people do not want production or transmission facilities in their backyards.
Environmental plans for U.S. energy production already are among the most restrictive anywhere in the world. Despite this, protests and legal challenges besiege energy development decisions, delaying or derailing production.
Meanwhile, we transfer trillions of U.S. dollars to buy oil from countries that do not have the same political and environmental standards we enjoy. It just doesn’t make good sense.
The picture is even more striking offshore, where 85 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf is off limits to development in the lower 48 states.
Yet most of the nation’s oil and gas is offshore – an estimated 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s enough to fuel almost 40 million cars and heat 92 million homes for 15 years.
We produce less than half of the oil we consume and import the rest. Demand in China and India is expected to more than double by 2030, which will heighten competition for supplies. These trends all point to increasing difficulties in obtaining energy at a reasonable cost.
According to the Energy Information Administration’s latest estimates, even with new energy efficiency standards, U.S. oil consumption will rise 10 percent by 2030.
Better gas mileage will be offset by more cars. Total energy use will increase 19 percent.
Meeting near-term energy demand will require increased access to lands and resources for oil, gas and renewable energy, together with increases in conservation and energy efficiencies.
No single approach is enough. The health of our economy and our national security require a balance of these strategies.
While balancing access to our energy resources with other land uses is important, how many limits can we afford? With each fill-up, Americans are paying the price for these limits.
It’s time we look within our own borders for solutions, rather than rely on the shifting energy policies and politics of other countries.
C. Stephen Allred is assistant secretary of the interior for land and minerals management at the U.S. Department of the Interior.