Can the U.S. Drill Its Way to Energy Security?

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“With nonrenewable resources like oil and gas, being more "energy independent" now implies increasing energy dependence at some point in the future.”

Those who advocate increased oil and gas drilling generally assume that increased drilling will result in significantly increased oil and gas production. For nearly four decades, however, the total U.S. energy production from domestic oil and gas has been in steady overall decline. Especially surprising is the fact that the enormous spike in drilling effort in the 1970s and early 1980s had essentially no apparent effect on U.S. energy production.

Drilling is certainly an essential stage in oil and gas exploration and production; but the fact that increased drilling is unlikely to substantially change domestic energy production means that more weight must be given to the strategic costs of ramping up the exploitation of the remaining U.S. resources.

There is a tradeoff in oil and gas production that, before now, has too often been neglected in policy considerations—there is an unavoidable, associated future strategic cost to the exploitation of any nonrenewable resource. In terms of nonrenewable resources like oil and gas, being more "energy independent" now implies increasing energy dependence in the future.

In a region as geologically "mature" as the U.S., with only a small fraction of the world’s remaining petroleum reserves, increasing current production will also decrease the future strategic options for U.S. energy policy. By focusing on the short-term benefits of nonrenewable resource exploitation, while neglecting the future costs of depletion, a nation engages in a form of deficit spending. Like other national debts, the energy debt can be overlooked, ignored, and denied, even for generations, but the account will eventually be settled.

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