Remember the charge hurled during the presidential campaign, that the Obama White House has not been aggressive enough in promoting oil and gas drilling? On Monday, the International Energy Agency released a report projecting that by 2017, the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer. The report calculates that by 2030, this country will become a net oil exporter.
Without question, the president hasn’t been as gung-ho as his critics would like. Neither has he stood in the way to the degree they suggest. Add that the report forecasts the United States exceeding Russia as the leading producer of natural gas by 2015, and the makings are there for this country becoming “all but self-sufficient” in meeting its energy needs during the next two decades.
That is good news, and a significant share of the drilling activity will benefit the Ohio economy. At the same time, it is worth emphasizing that self-sufficiency doesn’t mean escaping the twists and turns of the global oil market. Which points to another missing element in the debate: Presidents do not control oil prices, or even have much influence over their path. In that way, no amount of drilling here will prove decisive in pricing.
More, the International Energy Agency report stresses that its projection of self-sufficiency turns partly on extracting new oil and gas from the ground. An equally telling component is the pursuit of energy efficiency, largely reflecting the higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks set by the president. The report argues that Americans and others are smart to promote additional measures to improve energy efficiency.
Then, there is the broader context: As strategically sound as self-sufficiency is, it offers little in regard to combating climate change. The report notes that global energy demand likely will grow by 35 percent to 46 percent from 2010 to 2035.
If the United States reduces its consumption of coal, China and India will accelerate their use. Natural gas burns more cleanly, yet it still is a fossil fuel, sending heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.
There resides the case for greater efficiency, and more, including a carbon tax of some kind. A tax delivers the right incentive, even generating revenue for research and development into new, cleaner-burning technologies. Clearly, climate change requires an international approach. The consequences of a warming planet make plain that energy independence hardly erases the reality of Americans depending on the actions of others.