March 6, 2006
Curing the Addiction to Oil

By Jack Kingston & Eliot Engel

As President Bush said during his State of the Union address: America is dangerously addicted to oil.

We consume nearly 21 million barrels of oil per day, everyday, and our appetite is increasing. Today, the American economy demands over 25 percent of global oil production while our known oil reserves make up only 3 percent of global supply.

Even as our thirst for more oil increases, China, India and the developing world are demanding a greater share of the pie. China alone recently attempted to acquire the American oil giant Unocal and has signed contracts worth billions of dollars with Iran for oil and natural gas.

Being so completely dependent on a single, finite, and pollution-causing fuel might only be an economic or environmental problem if it were not for the fact that we must import over 60 percent of our oil (over 12 million barrels per day) and much of that from nations that are unstable, unfriendly or outright hostile. Whether it’s the belligerent ranting of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, the kidnappings in Nigeria’s oil fields, the rampant corruption in Russia, the war in Iraq or the nuclear stand-off with Iran, when it comes to oil, America has few good options.

Addiction to foreign oil limits our actions on the global stage and our choices here at home, it leaves us vulnerable to acts of God and acts of man, and with over 80 percent of known global reserves in the Middle East, or belonging to predominantly Muslim nations, oil is intertwined with terrorism and fuels the radical Islamist movement. Dependency on foreign oil is one of the central national security problems we will face in this century.

The domestic oil picture is not much brighter. Peak oil production in this country came and went in the 1990s. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, shutting down oil platforms, pipelines, ports and refineries accounting for nearly one-quarter of our domestic supply and much of our capacity for distributing imports. Significant portions of this area have still not recovered and all of it remains vulnerable to future storms.

Perfect storms of political disagreement have blocked drilling in Alaska and in the deep sea -- all but halting domestic exploration. Conservation efforts, which must be stepped-up, are fighting a losing battle to the armies of mini-vans and SUV’s that American families demand. The transportation sector accounts for over two-thirds of our oil consumption. Cars and trucks which account for most of this remain 98 percent dependent on oil for fuel.

The good news is that while we cannot drill or carpool our way out of oil dependency, there is an answer that is good for the American economy, good for our environment and good for our national security – fuel choice. By rapidly adopting vehicle technologies available today, such as flexible fuel, electric hybrid, and plug-in cars, and rapidly expanding the use and availability of fuels made from abundant or renewable resources, such as ethanol made from corn, electricity (only 2 percent is still made from oil), and clean diesels made from coal, agricultural products or even garbage, America could begin to wean itself from millions of barrels of oil per day within a decade.

More good news is that all of this technology is already in our grasp or soon will be – the challenge is one of investment more than invention. Cars like the Ford Taurus and the Dodge Caravan are already capable of using a flexible fuel blend of up to 85 percent Ethanol. There are now dozens of electric hybrid vehicles with a choice in nearly every vehicle class. Combination flexible fuel and electric hybrids, including plug-in hybrids, hold the promise of driving hundreds of miles on a gallon of gas and “refueling” at home with the investment in a family extension cord!

Congress should support the President’s call to continue research and development of these new technologies. But Congress and the President should not stop there.
Together, we should adopt a bold plan to reduce oil consumption by 2.5 million barrels per day within a decade – more than we currently import from the Persian Gulf – and rapidly expand the fuel and vehicle choices of the American consumer. If at the end of a decade every new car in America had the option of using at least one fuel in addition to gasoline our economy would be stronger, our environment cleaner, our country safer and our addiction broken. Oil would continue to fuel our economy but we would have choices and with choices comes security.

The choice before us is clear, continue to send $250 billion per year overseas and hope that money does not find its way to our enemies, or “on-shore” our energy future by buying our next gallon of fuel from an American farmer, refined at a clean American refinery, and put into an American-built fuel choice car.

The future is not so much about what we drive as it is about what we put in what we drive and the fuel choices we make.

The authors are Congressmen Jack Kingston (R-GA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) who have cosponsored H.R. 4409, the bipartisan Fuel Choices for American Security Act.

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Jack Kingston and
Eliot Engel

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