The Pitfalls of U.S. Energy Indepedence

Seamus Crowley, Maroon-News Staff

The Annual Energy Outlook of 2017, produced by the U.S. Energy Information

Administration (EIA), stated that the U.S. is poised to become a net exporter in the global energy trade. Within the decade it is projected that the U.S. will export more energy, primarily in the form of oil and natural gas, than it is purchasing from other nations. If the U.S. does reach this threshold of more energy exports it would be historically monumental and representative of national energy independence in the eyes of many. Energy independence has often been touted within this country as something that should be strived toward and as something that would be beneficial for the well being of the nation. Arguments in favor of energy independence often cite the benefits of increased intranational revenue and strengthened national security as reasons for increasing energy exports. While I do believe that these benefits are worthy pursuits of our nation, I think that the negative implications of the circumstances under which the U.S. is set up to reach energy independence have the potential to negate any benefits.  

The rise of U.S. energy production toward the threshold of independence has been made possible, in part, by the rise in extraction of shale oil and natural gas through the advancement of fracking techniques in recent years. This scenario would have been unthinkable decades ago, particularly during the fuel crisis of the 1970s, but now it is within sight. However, a significant issue with the factors surrounding energy independence arises out of this scenario. By pursuing energy independence through the increased use of greenhouse gas-emitting fossil fuels, the U.S. is creating more problems than solutions. 

While national security may be improved through the reduction of energy dependence on relations with foreign and potentially hostile nations, the growing impact of climate change have the potential to provide an even greater risk to national security. By exacerbating the trend of fossil fuel availability on the global market of past decades, the U.S. is continuing to foster contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The resulting impacts of this can create a variety of physical vulnerabilities for nations and enhance the degradation of national security. For instance, an increase in droughts and the resulting decline in availability of cropland in some areas of the world have led to collective violence and instability, which exposes the U.S. to more national security threats. Thus, energy independence through the means of fossil fuel production does not eliminate national security vulnerability, rather it just displaces the problem globally.

Furthermore, while more revenue may be created through the fossil fuel approach toward

energy independence, the impacts that these extractive operations have can still create a significant, burdensome cost. The costs of climate change on society are extensive, and include enhanced natural disasters, rising sea level and strengthened heat waves. These costs will continue to rise while the use of greenhouse gas-emitting fuels are supported and produced by the U.S. While there may be some short term economic benefits to surpassing the energy independence threshold, the lasting, associated costs will certainly prove to be detrimental.

Energy independence has the potential to benefit the U.S., but it is unwise to pursue this via increased fossil fuel production. A more practical and sound approach would be to pursue more renewable energy development that would be utilized domestically, which would decrease foreign energy demand and bring the U.S. closer to energy independence without having to increase exports. Furthermore, an astonishing amount of energy is lost from the fuel source by the time it is processed to become usable electricity. In fact, tens of quadrillions of British thermal units are lost due to conversion each year. This makes for an extremely inefficient system, however, these losses provide an opportunity for technological advances in the conversion process. A decrease in conversion losses would increase the supply available within the U.S. and decrease the demand for imported energy, while still not increasing exports, which would bring the U.S. closer to energy independence.

Energy independence is important to the U.S., but it should not be pursued in a manner that continues to negatively impact the climate system when sensible, domestic projects can serve as a means to the same end.

Contact Seamus Crowley at [email protected].