The pursuit by forward thinking policy makers of a clean, renewable energy future for this country is not occurring in a vacuum. There are factors that are driving the innovation that is accelerating the availability of biofuels, biomass, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy and hydropower in the United States, not the least of which is energy security. But sometimes, those who lead this nation focus so tightly on the political ramifications of their decisions that they forget those drivers and must be reminded.
The conflict that is ripping at any hope for long-lasting peace in Iraq should be one of those reminders. After decades of war with its neighbors, western-imposed sanctions, the fall of Saddam Hussein and the tumult that plagued the country over the first decade of the new millennium, Iraq has surged to a leadership position among the oil producing states of the Middle East.
In 2012, Iraq became OPEC’s second largest producer of crude oil, the world’s eighth largest producer of petroleum products and holder of the world’s fifth largest oil reserves. In February of this year, Iraq produced some 3.6 million gallons of oil per day, exceeding even the previously high levels last seen there in 1979. In fact, the DOE’s Energy Information Administration says Iraq may be one of the few places around the globe that still offer vast, untouched hydrocarbon resources.
But the Sunni-Shi’ite violence now wracking that tinderbox of a nation is bringing with it the threat of disruption to Iraq’s oil production, and that makes investors and oil importers nervous. Oil prices here, which have stayed steadily at more than $100 per barrel, are at their highest level of the year. Even natural gas prices in the U.S. have jumped due to Iraq’s sectarian conflict.
The increased development of oil reserves in this country play a significant part of protecting us from major oil shocks. But U.S. policy makers with a good grasp of the larger energy picture understand that it’s not enough. When flare-ups like the conflict in Iraq jump up on the world stage, the huge and still urgent need to diversify our energy resources becomes abundantly clear.
Renewable energy standards, be it the federal Renewable Fuel Standard or state Renewable Portfolio Standards, that have been adopted to insure the growing development of clean, domestically produced energy sources have as a major objective the assurance of our energy security. And that means our national security.
Why else would the U.S. military so avidly pursue the development of renewable energy technologies that its leaders – uniformed and civilian – believe will save lives and money, increase operational effectiveness and enhance the nation’s energy security by reducing dependence on foreign oil.
It’s because clean, renewable energy contributes directly to our national security that the Department of Defense is pursuing a 25-percent renewable power goal by 2025. The DoD is the world’s largest single consumer of oil, spending more than $15 billion on petroleum-based fuel for military operations in 2011 alone, and having seen its energy expenditures jump almost four-fold since 2001.
The vulnerability of oil and natural gas markets as suggested by recent events in Iraq – and in other oil-producing hot spots in the Middle East, South America and Africa in recent years – validates the military’s promotion of new renewable energy solutions that can be brought to scale and boost the efficiency and effectiveness of our military forces. It also validates the policies that promote renewable energy.
Iraq should serve to remedy the sometimes collective amnesia that seems to affect policy makers who lose sight of the many risks posed to our national energy security. Lawmakers must understand that sustainable, domestically produced energy helps keep America safer.