The United States’ energy independence is under threat. For years, the gush of cheap and abundant shale oil and gas out of the West Texas Permian Basin has allowed the U.S. some degree of energy security and sovereignty, as well as giving the nation a great deal of sway in global energy markets. But U.S. energy titans and politicians have gotten complacent. As the country has doggedly stuck to the status quo, the rest of the world has been investing heavily in clean energy infrastructure, research, and development. And the United States is getting left behind in the dust.
This won’t be the first time that the United States has had to struggle with energy insecurity. The shale revolution completely and totally redrew the world’s geopolitical map, but that was a relatively recent occurrence. Before that, the United States was more or less beholden to the Middle East, and those relations were tumultuous to say the least. Twice in one decade -- first in 1973 and then again in 1979 -- consumers in the United States found themselves in long gas lines thanks to an oil embargo and the Iranian Revolution, respectively. A gush of domestic shale oil and gas in recent decades completely changed the rules of engagement, giving the country “a flexibility in international affairs that it had not had for decades.”
But the geopolitical power of the shale revolution is fading at a rapid pace. Shale has been pronounced dead many times over as production has waned as shale wells age and the “drill, baby, drill” zeitgeist begins to temper itself. And all that was before the sector all but ground to a halt thanks to the spread of the novel coronavirus. Last year, as industrial sectors took a break, people retreated inside to shelter in place, and the global demand for oil dipped, the West Texas Intermediate crude benchmark plummeted to nearly $40 below zero in April. Related: U.S. Shale Sees Light At The End Of The Tunnel
All of a sudden, peak oil is nearing. And while the clean energy transition can not and will not happen overnight, oil is unquestionably in its twilight years. Energy executives around the world have seen the writing on the wall. In Europe, Big Oil has begun its pivot to becoming Big Energy. In China, President Xi Jinping’s administration has invested heavily in clean energy technology and infrastructure in order to shore up its own energy security and independence. In the United States, oil execs and petro-politicians have taken the opposite approach: they have circled the wagons. Instead of focusing on the long-term outlook for oil, for which the prognosis is unquestionably grim, they have focused on the immediate term. Ironically, dogmatic loyalty to the shale play that granted the United States its energy independence will be the very thing that takes it away.
Yes, the world still needs hundreds of billions of barrels of oil. But that will more than likely be fossil fuels’ swan song. In the near future, energy independence will have very little to do with a cheap supply of oil and gas and everything to do with getting into clean energy markets early and fighting global warming. Climate change poses an enormous threat to energy security and geopolitical turmoil will undoubtedly intensify as the world gets warmer. What’s more, clean energy relies on long and complex supply chains that include components like rare Earth metals and minerals, and the countries that control those supply chains will be the new energy titans. So far, the United States is falling far, far behind in that race. As it stands, China controls the supply of as much as 90% of some of these finite materials.
The United States has given oil and gas free rein for far too long and failed to diversify its energy mix in the process, making the country particularly vulnerable in a global market that it has increasingly less control over.
The United States’ failure to get on board the clean energy train has not only imperiled its energy security, but also its national security. “As climate change continues to destabilize at-risk regions worldwide, threatening to draw the United States into more protracted, international conflicts,” Foreign Policy reported this week, “the administration needs to do more to treat climate change as a matter of national security rather than as just an environmental concern—and to move toward true energy independence in the process.”
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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