- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2011


Even before chaos erupted in Egypt, the price of a barrel of oil was approaching $100. The price of a gallon of gasoline is well over $3 a gallon, and some experts suggest that it could rise to $5 a gallon once the peak spring and summer driving season arrives. The uncertainly created by the chaos in Egypt and the possibility that it may spread throughout the greater Middle East - creating supply disruptions - means the world price of oil and its refined products will continue to surge.

The interaction of potential supply disruptions abroad and federal energy policies at home creates a “perfect storm” that adversely affects the U.S. economy. One hopes the geopolitical uncertainties generated by the riots in Egypt will impel U.S. policymakers to address dysfunctional energy policies here at home.

The fact is we in the United States possess sufficient energy resources to provide for our own needs, but the government chooses not to make use of them. Much of the responsibility for the failure to tap our own resources can be attributed to the Obama administration. The president essentially has voted “present” regarding the need for expanding energy production in this country.

Witness the moratorium on offshore drilling, policies that continue to prevent the exploitation of oil and gas in federal lands in the West and Alaska, the ban on mountaintop coal mining, the order to pull the plug on the Yucca Mountain project for the storage of nuclear waste, and the failure to fix the loan guarantee program for nuclear plant construction. The administration continues to tout “green” energy projects such as wind and solar, but these technologies are still at the “fairy dust” stage.

While the administration continues to push a green agenda that requires tremendous taxpayer-funded government subsidies, it gives short shrift to steps that actually could increase energy supplies and reduce energy prices, to the benefit of the U.S. economy. Such steps might include immediately lifting restrictions on oil and gas exploitation in the 650 million acres of federal lands now closed, reopening the Gulf of Mexico to drilling, expanding drilling leases in Alaska, and rescinding the Environmental Protection Agency’s power grab - the agency’s designation of “greenhouse gases” such as carbon dioxide as pollutants subject to regulation in accordance with the Clean Air Act.

While the technology for “green” energy remains iffy, technological advances in other areas are most promising. A case in point is the harvesting of natural gas. Experts note that advances in directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing technologies enable producers to achieve high rates of gas production from deep shale-gas formations. Sites in Pennsylvania and New York are very promising, but opponents of shale-gas drilling have gotten the upper hand and are jeopardizing production.

No matter what new subsidies the Obama administration provides, the development of economically viable “green” energy remains a distant dream at best. For the foreseeable future, oil and gas remain the key to prosperity and energy security for the United States. If we do not exploit domestic energy resources, we make ourselves ever more vulnerable to supply disruptions caused by overseas crises.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., and editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. The views he expresses here are his alone.

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