BRIA 18 2 b Oil and National Security

Bill of Right in Action
Spring 2002 (18:2)

BRIA 18:2 Home | The Great Rebellion of 1857 in India | Oil and National Security | The Debate Over Hawaii and an American Overseas Empire

Oil and National Security

The war on terrorism makes it urgent for the American people to make some hard choices on what to do about the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

In 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt pushed a button in the White House to turn on the electric lights of the St. Louis World's Fair. This event symbolized the start of a new American industrial economy, made possible by natural energy sources. As the century progressed, energy from coal and oil lit our cities, heated our homes, fueled our cars, and powered our manufacturing plants.

By the end of World War II, petroleum had overtaken coal as the leading source of fuel consumed in the United States. By 1950, the United States was importing about 10 percent of its petroleum products every year from foreign countries. Recognizing the dangers of depending on other countries for our energy supply, President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave the green light to U.S. nuclear electric power production. Nuclear power, however, did not develop as much as expected because of public concerns over safety and a continuing controversy over where to store radioactive waste.

The United States increasingly depended on foreign oil. Most foreign oil was controlled by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), dominated by Arab countries. America's dependence on foreign oil led to a crisis following the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Angry at Western support of Israel, OPEC cut off oil to the United States. Supplies drew scarce, prices skyrocketed, and long lines resulted at gas stations. President Richard Nixon called on America to achieve "oil independence." He asked Americans to conserve energy by car pooling and turning down their thermostats. He extended daylight-saving time, banned gasoline sales on Sunday, and got Congress to approve building a trans-Alaskan oil pipeline. OPEC lifted the embargo in 1974, but oil prices continued to climb throughout the 1970s.

Nixon's successor, Gerald Ford, proposed measures to address America's increasingly worrisome dependence on imported oil. Ford recommended "many thousands" of new domestic oil wells, fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, synthetic fuel research, 200 nuclear-power plants, and the storage of oil for a national emergency. Congress approved only some of these far-reaching proposals.

In 1978, the revolution in Iran brought on another disruption of oil to the United States. Once again, gas lines formed at service stations even though Iran supplied only 4 percent of U.S. oil consumption. The oil crisis seemed to end by the 1980s. With enormous supplies of oil, OPEC started lowering prices.

Another oil crisis flared up, however, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. President George Bush imposed an embargo on imports from both countries. Americans again faced a major cutback in foreign oil imports, which caused escalating gasoline and other petroleum prices. For the first time, the president authorized withdrawals from the nation's emergency oil reserves. President Bush also approved a "National Energy Strategy," which recommended more energy conservation as well as drilling for oil at offshore sites and in public lands.

By 2000, OPEC was once again attempting to increase prices by controlling world oil production. By this time, the United States was importing more than 50 percent of its annual oil supply, mainly from Latin America and the Middle East, including even Iraq.

Bush's National Energy Policy

Today, the United States consumes a quarter of the oil produced in the world. Oil provides almost half the energy Americans consume. Americans use two-thirds of this oil to fuel transportation. The recent popularity of SUVs (sports utility vehicles) has significantly boosted gasoline consumption. Industry and home heating accounts for most of the rest of America's annual oil use. More than half of this oil comes from foreign countries that are often unstable or even hostile to the United States. Price increases by OPEC and supply disruptions caused by revolutions and wars could drive up gasoline prices, cause job layoffs, bring on an economic recession, and weaken our military mobility. All these developments could threaten our national security.

In May 2001, President George W. Bush released his National Energy Policy. According to the White House, this policy addressed multiple strategies to meet the nation's future energy needs and to protect the environment. Much of the policy statement centered on what to do about the increasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports, which are projected to account for more than 60 percent of America's annual oil supply by 2020. Relying less on direct government action and more on new technology and tax credits for private industry, President Bush's National Energy Policy attempts to achieve:

  • Increased oil and other energy conservation by making buildings, vehicles, and appliances more energy efficient.

  • Increased domestic production of nuclear power, natural gas, and oil, including drilling at offshore sites and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

  • Continued research and development of renewable and alternative sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydrogen fuel cell power.

  • Construction of a national electricity grid, additional gas and oil pipelines, and more oil refineries.

  • Stronger alliances with oil producing countries in regions of the world outside the Middle East.

President Bush quickly sent a legislative proposal to Congress based on his new energy policy. Critics charged that his policy and proposed legislation were anti-environment and too heavy on "dig and drill." Bush responded by saying, "The truth is energy production and environmental protection are not competing priorities. They are dual aspects of a single purpose, to live well and wisely upon the Earth."

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed an energy bill in August 2001. The bill contained most of the president's energy proposals, including opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for oil production. But the House bill left out significant increases in fuel-efficiency standards for autos and SUVs, which many Democrats had pushed for. The bill also proposed little to encourage alternative energy production. The measure then went to the Democratic-controlled Senate where it stalled, mainly because of Democratic opposition to oil drilling in the wildlife refuge.

The attack against the United States on September 11 and the war on terrorism reminded Americans that oil imports might be disrupted at any time, threatening America's economy and national security. At year's end, disagreement about President Bush's energy initiative focused mainly on whether to open the wildlife refuge in Alaska to oil production.

The ANWR Debate

In 1960, President Eisenhower and Congress established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), located in northeast Alaska near the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Twenty years later, President Jimmy Carter and Congress doubled the size of the ANWR to almost 20 million acres. Congress, however, set aside 1.5 million acres ("Area 1002") along the coast of the Beaufort Sea for possible oil production. The government estimates that drilling in Area 1002 would probably recover from 4.3 to 11.8 billion barrels of oil. (This amounts to about a one- to three-year supply of oil at current American consumption rates.)

Drill in the ANWR: No

During summer, the top few inches of the Arctic tundra melts. Grasses and plants grow to support animal wildlife. The tundra is fragile. Oil spills would be a disaster. Recently, an intoxicated man shot a hole in the main Alaska Pipeline, spilling 285,000 gallons of crude oil on the tundra.

The ANWR is home to such wildlife as foxes, wolves, moose, caribou, polar bears, and migratory birds. A herd of 130,000 caribou migrates 400 miles north each spring to the Beaufort Sea coast where their calves are born. Developing an oil field with its roads, pipelines, oil wells, and human workforce would interrupt this caribou migration.

It would take 10 years before any oil flowed from the ANWR. Even at peak production, this oil would provide less than 2 percent of U.S. daily consumption. The United States would still have to import foreign oil. In addition, the development of the ANWR oil field would create many fewer jobs than the oil industry estimated in a 1990 study.

Once the oil is taken, it is gone forever. If the goal is to lessen our dependence on foreign oil, then it makes more sense to develop more fuel-efficient vehicles and renewable energy such as wind and solar. Gradually changing the average fuel consumption of vehicles from the current 27.5 miles per gallon to 40 mpg will cut consumption by 2 million barrels a day by 2005. This is much more oil than the Arctic Refuge can supply in the same period.

September 11 demonstrates the vulnerability of our pipelines and major utility structures. Instead of making us more secure, transporting oil from Alaska would make us more exposed to terrorist attacks. Only conservation and alternative energy sources can increase our national security.

Drill in the ANWR: Yes

Oil drilling would disturb only 2,000 acres within Area 1002 of the ANWR. Moreover, new drilling technologies, already in use in Alaska, minimize damage to the environment. Clustering oil wells makes a smaller "footprint" on the tundra. Multiple and steerable drills from one well can move horizontally underground long distances to numerous oil deposits. Aboveground pipelines allow wildlife to migrate freely underneath. Heavy equipment can move on roads made of ice for much of the year.

In 1987, the Department of the Interior concluded from five years of biological studies in the ANWR that environmentally sensitive oil drilling could safely proceed. In the Prudhoe Bay oil field, caribou herds have actually increased since drilling began.

The amount of oil that is available in the ANWR just about equals the 23 years of production from the Prudhoe Bay field, which is now being depleted. ANWR oil reserves also equal 10-20 years of imports from the Middle East. Developing the ANWR oil field would mean hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans and billions of dollars of revenue for the federal government and Alaska. Renewable energy is a good idea, but it will take decades to become cost-effective. Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton says that starting to work now on tapping "the largest potential domestic source of oil" is necessary for U.S. national security.

For Discussion and Writing

  1. Why have several presidents concluded that America's dependence on foreign oil poses a threat to U.S. national security?

  2. Which one of President George W. Bush's National Energy Policy goals do you think is the most important? Why?

  3. By one estimate, if SUVs (classed now as "light trucks") were required to have the same fuel efficiency as regular cars, the United States could save a million barrels of oil a day. SUVs would also probably become lighter and less powerful. Where do you stand on this issue? Why?

For Further Information

Energy Policy

Energy Prospects and Alternatives Huge collection of links.

U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

House Committee on Resources

Energy Articles from Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century National Resources Defense Council

Energy Policy—Yahoo Full Coverage

Energy Policy: Setting the Stage for the Current Debate From the Almanac of Policy Issues

Energy Special Report Articles from the Washington Post.

Energy Policy: Terrorism Questions & Answers From the Council on Foreign Relations.

ANWR Background

Fact sheet: ANWR debate at a glance From CNN.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: The Next Chapter A 2001 Congressional Research Service Report.

ANWR: Background and Analysis From the Almanac of Policy Issues.

All the Current ANWR News News articles about ANWR from thousands of online newspapers, magazines, periodicals, journals, and other news sources. From

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: A Special Report Links to much information and all sides of the controversy. From Arctic Circle.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998, Including Economic Analysis From the U.S. Geological Survey.

The War Over Alaska's Arctic Refuge From National Geographic.

Oil and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge From the Natural Resources Defense Council.

ANWR Drilling: Yes

From Arctic Power, an organization "committed to securing congressional and presidential approval of legislation opening the Coastal Plain of ANWR to responsible oil development."

What Development of ANWR Means to Your States From the Teamster's Union.

ANWR Drilling: No

Save the Arctic Refuge From Big Oil From Defenders of Wildlife.

Arctic National Refuge From Defenders of Wildlife.

Wildlands: ANWR From the Sierra Club

Anwar Advocacy

ANWR From the Alaska Coalition of Oregon.

ANWR A site from the Canadian government opposing drilling in ANWR.

Petroleum Organizations

American Petroleum Institute The primary trade association of the American oil and natural gas industry.

Petroleum News Alaska Information about the petroleum industry in Alaska.


Drill in the ANWR?

  1. Meet in small groups to discuss these questions:

    a. Why is America's increasing dependence on foreign oil a national security problem for the United States?

    b. How does President George W. Bush's National Energy Policy attempt to address the problem of reducing America's dependence on foreign oil?

    c. What are the best arguments for and against opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil production?

  2. The students should then each write a letter to one of their U.S. senators on this question: Should we open the ANWR for oil production in order to reduce our dependence on foreign imports? The letter should contain reasons and evidence to back up the student's viewpoint.




Measures to:

  • improve energy efficiency of appliances and machinery
  • produce electric and hybrid autos •increase fuel efficiency standards for industry
  • increase miles-per-gallon standards for autos and SUVs
  • voluntary consumer cutbacks in energy usage
  • increase energy taxes
  • reduces dependence on non-renewable fossil fuels (oil , natural gas, coal)
  • reduces dependence on foreign oil imports
  • reduces need to extract fossil fuels from sensitive environments like the ANWR
  • reduces pollution
  • may reduce cost to the consumer in some cases
  • depends heavily on willingness of consumer to reduce energy usage
  • autos and SUVs would be smaller and less powerful
  • electric and hybrid autos currently have less power and range than gasoline-powered vehicles
  • may require more government regulations and laws
  • may increase cost to the consumer in some cases


Water-powered dam turbines generate electricity

  • renewable
  • non-polluting
  • dams also create reservoirs for city water supplies, farm irrigation, and recreation
  • may destroy "wild rivers"
  • may interrupt fish migration and spawning
  • transmission lines may conflict with property rights and scenic values
  • most dam sites developed


Sun-powered photovoltaic cells produce electricity, heating, and cooling

  • renewable
  • non-polluting
  • energy source for power plants, individual homes, and vehicles
  • limited to areas with little cloud cover such as deserts
  • consumers must purchase expensive equipment for individual home use


Windmill turbines generate electricity and pump water

  • renewable
  • non-polluting except for possible noise
  • limited to areas with steady winds
  • wind power more expensive than fossil fuels


Natural steam from the earth powers turbines to produce electricity and heat

  • renewable
  • non-polluting
  • limited to areas with geothermal formations
  • more expensive than fossil fuels


Plant matter and organic waste is processed to produce biofuels like ethanol and methane

  • renewable
  • little pollution
  • ethanol used as gasoline additive to reduce emissions
  • methane a byproduct of landfills
  • requires transport of large amounts of organic material to landfills and biomass processing plants
  • more expensive than fossil fuels


Uranium or plutonium used in a controlled nuclear reaction to produce heat, steam, and electricity

  • uranium and plutonium plentiful
  • electricity cheaper than that produced by fossil fuels
  • non-polluting when radioactivity is contained
  • new reactor designs make nuclear power efficient and safe
  • must store radioactive waste for 10,000 years
  • no storage site in place
  • radioactive waste must be transported to storage site
  • vulnerable to accidents and terrorist acts
  • nuclear power plants very expensive to build


Hydrogen fuel cells can produce power for buildings and vehicles

  • hydrogen abundant (contained in water)
  • non-polluting
  • much more efficient than the gasoline engine
  • auto makers investing in hydrogen cell technology as the "future of the industry"
  • requires another source of energy to make hydrogen
  • more expensive than fossil fuels
  • would require major investment in new refineries, pipelines, and service stations to compete with fossil fuels


Heavy forms of hydrogen will produce a reaction that can generate electricity

  • fuel plentiful and inexhaustible
  • safe
  • non-polluting
  • not technologically ready; won't be practical for more than 20 years



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