Trump’s Energy Independence

What is the primary foreign policy goal of the United States of America? It isn’t commerce, nor international hegemony; neither is it empire, or the promotion of corporate interests. And certainly — despite the protests of many American liberals — it isn’t the promotion of peace, noble as that may sound. Rather, American foreign policy has always been designed around a single pursuit: preserving national independence.

One of the great boons of republicanism is the ability to alter the direction of policy with each election. An incoming administration represents the opportunity to deflect from the failed policies of President Barack Obama in favor of the tried and true. Perhaps no single issue offers the chance for a return to that ancient ambition — national sovereignty — as energy independence.

A wise statesman would see substantial petroleum and natural gas deposits as a gift from heaven. It’s clear that many have, although their countries were not blessed with such a resource. The production facilities built by the Anglo-Persian Oil Company at Abadan, East Indian wells maintained by the Batavian Oil Company, and the Russian fields at Azov, Ukraine (recently annexed by Vladimir Putin’s regime) are a testament to the power that petroleum has historically held. And, if history is any judge, energy production will continue to serve as a critical asset to every nation under the sun in 2017 and beyond.

Since the Civil War and the discovery of petroleum deposits in Pennsylvania, the United States has long stood as one of the world’s largest producers of petroleum products, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. Most surprising, however, was the 2012 announcement that the U.S. had overtaken Russia in combined oil/natural gas output. Taking advantage of tight oil and shale gas formations and utilizing hydraulic fracturing techniques, a 21st century boom has suppressed domestic gasoline prices. 

The effects have been profound. In 2016, the United States produced 90% of the energy it consumed; in January 2000 that figure was only 67.3%. Crude oil imports are down from a peak of 3,695,971 barrels in 2005 to 2,687,409 barrels in 2015; a 27.3% decrease. With the 40-year oil export ban lifted in 2016, American energy promises to revitalize the economy and confirm our country’s place as an unrivalled energy giant. 

In addition to economic gains, cheap and abundant energy poses an unrivaled advantage to American national security. In the past, Europe’s colonial empires sought cheap coal (later oil) for their navies, and the overseas stations to refuel them. States unable to provide fuel for vessels at sea faced a serious inability to project power — and thus react to threats — and found that they were unable to protect commerce and points of national interest. A nation able to cheaply fuel its air, naval and ground forces is a nation prepared to wage war almost anywhere on Earth, unhindered by rapidly-growing cost restraints. In peacetime, cheap fuel aids the operations of the United States Navy, the world’s most important defender of international trade lanes.

An America freed from the need to import its military’s fuel is less reliant on the diplomatic whims of other, potentially hostile states; and is thus afforded infinitely greater flexibility with respect to diplomacy.

Where are the frontiers of modern energy? Ever spiteful of oil and gas, lame duck President Obama used his pen and phone to block expansion into Arctic reserves — a region home to an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil, and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. (Note to President-Elect Trump: add this to the list of executive orders to overturn next year). Government restrictions aside, however, many sites are currently too costly to exploit for energy firms, given the near rock-bottom price per barrel. American fracking, Saudi and Russian crude, and Iran’s return to the export market have kept prices low. Many producers are undoubtedly waiting out the inevitable return to a more profitable world market. With so many firms waiting on the sidelines, funding for exploration has dropped — but there are reasons to think that this is a temporary condition. 

With President-Elect Donald Trump vowing to revisit the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and listing energy independence among his promised achievements, the energy industry, U.S. national security, and the American consumer all stand to benefit unequivocally. He has promised to unleash “$50 trillion” in shale, oil reserves, natural gas and coal, and will undoubtedly seek to lower barriers to exploration in the Arctic and oceans. With OPEC’s latest cap on annual production, aimed at returning exports to profitability, the President-Elect may have received a boon as rising prices encourage firms to increase exploration beyond relatively inexpensive formations, such as Texas’s Permian Basin.

Trump’s commitment to expanding oil/gas/coal production and achieving the old dream of independence from foreign energy imports remains to be seen. His pick for Secretary of State, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, seems to indicate he is committed. Certainly he’ll face no small obstacles in the Environmental Protection Agency, liberal state legislatures (such as California’s), and groups hostile to fossil fuels. But the President-Elect has two key advantages beyond his own resolve: the presidential pen and phone, and the full support of a willing and able Republican Congress.

Follow this author on Twitter: @tasciovanus

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