As part of the debates last week and the energy policies of the two candidates for president, the notion of energy independence has crept into the discussion once dominated by the economy. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney vows energy independence by 2020. As pointed out in a recent article by NPR, President Obama also touts energy independence, but the two arrive at their goals in different ways.
Romney has adopted a backward looking approach; the 2008 “Drill, baby, drill” mantra that seemed to encapsulate the Republican’s energy platform during the last presidential election cycle. Here’s where history (and science) collide with this vision. Unfortunately, the United States peaked in oil production more than 40 years ago (1971 to be exact). Hubbert’s Peak, named after M. King Hubbert, predicted the climax and subsequent decline of oil production in the United States. While technology has allowed greater exploitation of resources (fracking and natural gas in particular), this does not change the fundamental equation that the crude oil in the ground is a finite, nonrenewable resource that we’ve been extracting for more than 150 years, dating back to its discovery in 1859.
Bio-fuels, especially those that do not compete with food or require either large inputs in terms of land or water, are the only currently viable alternative to crude oil. Plastic to oil, while intriguing, still relies on nonrenewable plastics.
This brings us to other renewables. In order to provide enough energy, renewable energy installations need an inordinate amount of space. Their ability to produce energy on the scale of nonrenewable sources is severely limited. However, they must play a role in the future of our domestic energy policy. If Romney wants to bet government funds on oil, how is this any different than the president’s policy of investing in renewable energy?
Mr. Romney, if you’re truly a free market proponent, do not support government subsidies of oil. Your campaign is running ads about the national debt being roughly $50,000 per child. As a father of two this is a concern, but so is a future where we’ve bet on diminishing fossil fuel reserves on domestic lands. It’s time to look forward with regard to energy policy, not backward.