Energy exports could help national security, new report suggests

The US should encourage oil and gas exports as part of a broader strategy that also includes accepting the reality of energy interdependence, taking steps to reduce domestic consumption and diversify supplies, and integrating energy security into strategic policy and military planning, a recent report recommended.

“The time is right to explore new strategies to safeguard the physical oil trade, new criteria for the use of strategic reserves, new potential energy export opportunities, and new possibilities for energy-focused trade arrangements,” Elizabeth Rosenberg, who directs the Center for a New American Security’s Energy, Environment, and Security Program, said in CNAS’s report, “Energy Rush: Shale Production and US National Security.”

It was developed by CNAS’s Unconventional Energy and National Security Task Force, co-chaired by Paula J. Dobriansky, a former US Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs; former US Energy Sec. Bill Richardson; and former US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.).

The report makes three main points, Dobriansky said at a Feb. 6 event where it was released:

• The unconventional oil and gas rush is an alert to policymakers because it presents opportunities and challenges.

• The US remains connected to global energy markets, which means it won’t be immune to volatile prices and will need to promote stability.

• A new global energy order is emerging, which will require new strategies and ways of thinking.

“These energy developments are essential for a strong US economy, which matters greatly for our security,” she said. “We’re also acquiring more global energy influence, including on Russia’s relationship with its customers, and have new opportunities for developments and collaborations with neighbors like Mexico, where so much has happened already.”

Smart energy diplomacy

“We must be smart in our energy diplomacy,” said Richardson. “We must help countries desperate to find alternatives to their current supplies.” The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ global oil market influence has diminished somewhat, but the US should maintain its ties with the cartel’s members because it has additional interests, he added.

“We should accept this change with a degree of modesty, and not use in-your-face diplomacy with the rest of the world,” said Warner. “We need to remember that countries on which we used to depend [for imported crude] still matter. We should assist them in continuing to help their economies grow, but in ways that strengthen the whole global economy. We’re all in this together, so we should be modest about the largesse we gain from this tremendous opportunity.”

It’s also time for the US to retire the idea of “energy independence”, which was an easy way for politicians to score points with voters for many years, because it ignores the contribution healthy and open global markets can make to improving national security, the 3 former federal officials agreed. “We’ll need to learn how to deal with political perceptions in other parts of the world where we have other strategic interests,” Dobriansky said.

Unconventional and deepwater production can help the US become self-reliant in producing the oil and gas it needs, but oil particularly will remain vulnerable to volatile prices and supply disruptions, according to Thomas E. Donlon, a former National Security Advisor who now is a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who also spoke.

“We also have other interests in the Middle East, where so much of the world’s oil still is produced, that we’ll continue to pursue,” he said. “Other trading relationships will change. Lower US imports mean more foreign oil will go to China and other countries which will increase their import reliance on places like the Middle East.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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