- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Americans have every reason to be anxious about being spiked again by rising energy prices. After all, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was blocked by Senate Democrats, who apparently believed that caribou counted for more than their constituents. Just as uncertain markets make for potential price jumps, secure energy supplies make for protected consumers. So, where should policy-makers look for safe supplies of oil? Somewhere out of the Senate's regulatory grasp and far away from ill-willed Middle East autocrats. But it should not be so distant that production costs are prohibitive.

One place that certainly meets those criteria is West Africa. In his National Energy Policy Report, Vice President Dick Cheney projected that the area would be "one of the fastest-growing sources of oil and gas for the American market," probably because oil from the region tends to be high in quality and low in sulfur content. Last year, America imported more than 10 percent of its oil from just two African countries: Nigeria and Angola. By 2015, Africa could be providing 25 percent of America's oil needs, according to National Intelligence Council estimates cited in "African Oil: A Priority for U.S. National Security and African Development," a white paper recently released by the African Oil Policy Initiative Group (AOPIG), a consortium of policy-makers and energy producers.

The AOPIG paper makes several worthwhile recommendations towards increasing U.S. involvement in the area for the benefit of both Americans and Africans, such as coupling negotiations on debt relief with the development of property rights and trade. Tax incentives may be useful in ensuring that financial transactions between corporate officers remain open to public scrutiny, as Americans should not be funding petty autocrats with their petrodollars. Since the temptation to abuse that wealth is inevitable, pressure will have to be kept on both oil producers and African regimes to encourage regional development and economic diversification.

Still, oil will remain a critical part of that equation, and as U.S. investment in the region continues to increase, additional U.S. security commitments may be necessary. While it is probably premature to set up a new regional U.S. sub-command as the white paper proposes, that may be necessary at some point in the future. As the AOPIG paper makes clear, Africa and America have much to offer one another; in particular, energy security for this country and economic development for Africa. Congress should begin taking serious steps toward securing such a future.

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