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Page added on April 29, 2007

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The Mirage of Energy Independence

With oil prices some three times higher than a decade ago, and access to more than half of the petroleum reserves on the planet beneath nations vulnerable to the whims of Islamic fundamentalists, it’s understandable that Americans want Washington to free them of dependence on foreign energy. Understandable — but misguided. The goal of energy independence is simply an illusion in an age of global interdependence. The goal of U.S. energy security through diversification is not.

Start with a reality check. In 1974, when President Nixon first called for energy independence, America was importing about six million barrels of oil a day from other countries — a bit more than one-third of consumption. Today, daily imports are around 14 million barrels, two-thirds of our consumption. The Bush administration’s prescription, more rapid exploitation of America’s own dwindling reserves, could make a difference. But not a big difference: A combination of stepped-up production from offshore wells and successful exploitation of reserves in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge could pare dependence on foreign oil by, at most, a few percentage points over the next few decades. The priorities of the domestic oil industry shouldn’t be confused with the priorities of the nation.


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