Energy insecurity -- a weapon of mass disruption?

February 17, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO - For years we've all heard the statistics - the U.S. imports more than half its oil and we're a large importer of natural gas. And the warning - our economic and national security requires us to reduce our dependence on these foreign sources, as well as use energy more wisely to improve our "energy security." At a panel discussion today at the annual meeting for the Association for the Advancement of Science, energy and national security experts will discuss this and other related topics, including how geopolitics of energy security may require "kid gloves" diplomacy to get what we need.

"Energy security is fast becoming a key to national security in many parts of the world, said Carol Kessler, director of the Pacific Northwest Center for Global Security, part of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. "If a country does not have access to sufficient energy resources to meet its energy requirements, its economic security can be impacted and eventually, its national security and possibly the United States' national security will be too."

Many experts say that energy insecurity concerns are driving the United States to develop more domestic supply resources, such as in the Arctic National Refuge, so America is not forced to import more foreign energy resources, such as oil.

According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. produced 307 metric tons of crude oil in 2005 and one year earlier imported 577 metric tons - more than any other country in the world. For natural gas, the U.S. was the second largest producer in 2005, but was also the largest importer in the same year.

"Balancing energy resources and consumption is fundamental to geopolitical stability," continued Kessler. "And it isn't an issue that's only important to lesser developed countries - it affects all countries, as indicated by the IEA statistics. The more unbalanced the world's energy supply and demand are, the less secure we are."

Energy geopolitics is commanding increased attention from political leaders. Some believe the United States treats some nations more favorably than others because they supply the United States with needed energy resources - resources that help sustain the domestic economy.

"The global impacts of energy use and consumption are not lost on U.S. lawmakers," said Kessler. "In fact, the symposium was inspired by Indiana Senator Dick Lugar's Energy Initiative."

In speaking to the Brookings Institution in 2006 Senator Lugar noted, "Whether or not one classifies America's oil dependence as an addiction, the bottom line is that with less than five percent of the world's population, the United States consumes 25 percent of its oil. If oil prices remain at $60 a barrel through 2006, we will spend about $320 billion on oil imports this year. Most of the world's oil is concentrated in places that are either hostile to American interests or vulnerable to political upheaval and terrorism. And demand for oil will increase far more rapidly than we expected just a few years ago. Within 25 years, the world will need 50 percent more energy than it does now."

The Energy Initiative legislation adds "Competition between governments for access to oil and natural gas reserves can lead to economic, political, and armed conflict. Oil exporting states have received dramatically increased revenues due to high global prices, enhancing the ability of some of these nations to act in a manner threatening to global stability."

"The symposium will address some of these geopolitical influences on U.S. energy security and how we might work internationally to improve this security," Kessler concluded. "The bottom line is that to meet energy security needs, our country needs to invest in research and development that helps us diversify our energy resources -- including alternatives such as renewables -- and, most importantly, enables us to use energy more efficiently."
Carol Kessler, director of the Pacific Northwest Center for Global Security, part of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, moderated the symposium "The Drive for Energy Security: Impacts on U.S. Security" at the American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual meeting. During the symposium, speakers from the National Bureau of Asian Research, Boston College and PNNL presented talks on China's search for energy security and its U.S. implications, the economics of Iran's energy independence, U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil and U.S. energy security enhanced through international collaboration.

DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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