'Do nothing' US energy policy will no longer work

May 9, 2005
The US has been living on an oil surplus, which has now disappeared, and a 'do nothing' energy policy will no longer work, said a prominent energy analyst.

The US has been living on an oil surplus, which has now disappeared, and a “do nothing” energy policy will no longer work, said a prominent energy analyst.

Robert Ebel, chairman of the Energy and National Security Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a 4-year congressional debate on energy policy remains unresolved but could be settled this year if higher gasoline prices act as a trigger for action.

The speaker noted that a 2001 report, prepared by the National Energy Policy Development Group, made about 200 recommendations, both administrative and legislative. Four years have passed, he said, and the debate continues.

Despite electric power blackouts, high gasoline prices, rising dependence on imported oil and natural gas, and changing geopolitics of energy, a national energy strategy has yet to be adopted.

Ebel said it appears that chances are now improved for passage of an energy bill this year. But the question remains whether a new energy policy will give consumers what the politicians have promised.

The speaker also said that economic sanctions against Libya, Iran, and Iraq also have resulted in losses to global oil production. He said there is a need for full production from these countries to meet oil demand.

Ebel said if the US does not respond to the energy challenges now facing it, there will be an increasingly difficult future and more control by others of oil supplies.

National, energy security

The speaker said the US government has lost the political will to make changes and the “jury is still out” on whether Americans are willing to make lifestyle changes to deal with the problem. Ebel said adoption of an energy policy probably won’t make a difference in US reliance on oil imports.

National security and energy security, the analyst said, are now closely linked, adding that the concerns of oil consumers are based on price and availability and it matters little where it comes from. That, he said, is left to politicians.

The speaker said there is now a shortage of energy infrastructure, as a result of the public’s “not in my backyard” concerns. No new refineries or nuclear power plants have been built because of concerns over disposal of spent fuel.

Ebel said he is surprised that the US has not put more emphasis on coal gasification since the nation is the “Saudi Arabia of coal.” He said the US is facing increasing oil demand as a result of growing population and more vehicles. At the same time, he said, renewable energy sources as a source of supply, are gradually losing ground.

Ebel said the US must say goodbye to the internal combustion engine, but it is likely to be a “long, slow goodbye.”

The speaker added that recent forecasts by some sources of $100/bbl oil are unlikely to come to pass. But with forecasts, he added, you should “never say never.”