The downsides of U.S. energy independence – by Konrad Yakabuski (Globe and Mail – May 13, 2013)

Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

For four decades, U.S. foreign policy has been dictated by the country’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil. What Barack Obama has called an “addiction” to foreign crude is seen as having undermined the ability of the world’s most powerful nation to control its own destiny.

No wonder the suddenly plausible prospect of U.S. energy independence is generating such giddiness. Not only is the boom in domestic oil and gas production boosting an economy in dire need of jobs and investment, it is rekindling Americans’ confidence in their country’s future.

What is more appropriately defined as North American oil independence – since the United States will continue to depend on Canadian and Mexican crude for decades to come – is almost unanimously hailed as a positive development that will enhance American security.

What gets mentioned less are the downsides of energy independence. Rising U.S. and Canadian oil production could well destabilize petro-states in the Middle East, Russia, Africa and beyond, sparking regime changes unfavourable to U.S. interests and creating an even riskier world.

The trauma of the 1973 Arab oil embargo fuelled America’s obsession with energy security. That obsession only intensified with declining domestic production as conventional oil wells dried up. The failure to halt ever-rising dependence on foreign oil became a source of national shame and resentment, humbling successive U.S. presidents into holding hands with Saudi oil sheiks.

In just a few short years, however, the United States has experienced a stunning reversal of its energy fortunes. As recently as 2005, the country was importing an average of 12.5 million barrels of oil every day, which was 60 per cent of domestic consumption. By last year, oil imports were down to 7.4 million barrels per day, 40 per cent of consumption. Next year, imports are expected to average 5.7 million barrels a day, 30 per cent of domestic demand, according to last week’s forecast by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

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