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Climate change is clearly one of the most significant challenges humans have ever faced. But, the politics of climate policy in the US is complicated. Adding to the challenge, oil and gas production in the country has soared in the past decade. Today, the US is one of the world’s leading oil and natural gas producers. Numerous economic benefits, such as employment opportunities and improved trade, contributed to the rise of oil and gas production.
But, greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels remain the primary driver of climate change. The world, especially countries like the US, needs to transition away from fossil fuels toward cleaner energy alternatives.
Many presidential candidates have proposed cutting back on US oil production to combat climate change. But, cutting back on oil production at home without a plan focused on reducing US oil demands will just increase US oil imports. This could actually increase greenhouse gas emissions via the fuels that will need to be transported to the United States. We need the country’s oil consumption to decrease.
Any ‘solution’ that reduces US emissions and increases global emissions is not really a solution. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires a focus on almost every sector of the economy. This challenge forces the US government to discuss the question: how US can decrease its dependency upon crude oil?
If the US eliminates its oil production faster than the rate of decline for oil demand, it will result in additional oil imports. Average US crude oil production releases 89 kg of carbon dioxide per barrel of oil. However, the average global emissions associated with crude oil production are 95 kg of carbon dioxide per barrel of oil.
These differences seem small when considering how short the US is falling from decarbonization. But in a world striving to reduce emissions, even the most minor differences play a crucial role in securing our future.
In 2011, the United States government established a national goal of reducing oil imports by one-third by 2020. In 2012, the government elevated the goal of reducing oil imports by half by 2020. The country did not meet this goal, but it did manage to reduce oil imports by a significant amount.
The US can decrease its dependency on crude oil by following three basic elements:
1. Increasing oil production at home
Research funded by the government can supplement the private industry’s work. It helps private sectors to develop technology that will spark the boom in oil and gas production. Crude oil production in the US has grown every year. In 2012, crude oil production in the US reached its highest in over 17 years. Over the past few years, domestic oil production accounted for over one-third of global oil production growth.
2. Developing crude oil substitutes
Biofuel is one of the main substitutes for crude oil. To decrease its dependence on crude oil, the US needs to almost double its production of biofuels. Natural gas needs to replace oil in transportation on a large scale.
3. Increasing energy efficiency
Strong fuel efficiency standards coupled with investments in new, cutting-edge technologies can help the US develop the most fuel-efficient light-duty vehicle fleet ever.
Since 2008, net petroleum imports in the US have fallen by one-third. Crude oil imports in the country continue to fall. The increased domestic supply of oil coupled with increased oil efficiency promotes the country’s national energy security. It also reduces the country’s vulnerability to global supply disruptions and price shocks.
The United States has the opportunity right now to reduce its dependency on crude oil. The opportunity presents itself in the form of clean energy adoption and global warming pollution reduction policies. These policies could spur economic growth and long-term sustainable growth.
Reducing oil imports through a clean energy reform could reduce the money sent overseas for oil, keep more money at home for investments, and cut down on global warming-related pollution. Investments at home could help create jobs and reduce oil dependence.
Investing in an economy dominated by clean energy is the most apparent path toward re-establishing economic stability and national energy security in the country.
The United States needs to enact policies that prohibit the use of fossil fuels without carbon capture and storage technology. The country also needs to ensure that its oil production processes release the lowest amount of greenhouse gases possible. Additionally, falling costs of renewable energy can help the government push fossil fuels out of its electricity generation grid. Oil and gas are not easy to replace with cleaner alternatives. The country needs policies and research to encourage the transition to clean energy in the most challenging sectors. Some actions that the country can take are:
1. Include energy companies in the low-carbon transition
Fossil fuel companies need to understand that climate change is an existential risk to their business model. They must adapt to remain viable businesses as the world transitions to a low-carbon economy. The country must recognize that energy companies have a role to play in the energy transition. Many skills developed in the oil industry are useful, even in the clean energy industry. Examples include applying offshore rig construction skills to offshore wind energy and knowledge of the Earth’s subsurface to geothermal energy production and carbon storage. Completely eliminating the oil and gas industry will do more harm than good. Instead, the country needs to gradually transition skills from the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy industry.
2. Strictly regulate US oil and gas production
Regulating US oil and gas production is vital for the country to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Regulations should consider the overall oil production impact on air, water, and local communities.
Policies that reduce the demand for fossil fuels must also focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, there are US policies that blend ethanol from corn into gasoline to reduce the demand of oil. But, this process does not significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Policies must focus on the root of the problem.
The United States is the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. 77% of US greenhouse gases come from fossil fuel combustion. Strong climate policies can significantly reduce US demand for fossil fuels like oil.