Like many in the White House before him, President Barack Obama charted out a plan last week to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. And like his predecessors, his road map to cut U.S. oil imports by one-third over the next decade comes against the backdrop of sharply rising oil prices and supply disruptions from an increasingly volatile Middle East.

Unfortunately, we have heard this song many times before. In 1973, President Richard Nixon unveiled “Project Independence” in response to the OPEC oil embargo that was triggered by the Arab–Israeli war.  President Jimmy Carter called the need to lessen U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil the moral equivalent of war in response to the supply disruptions that followed the Iranian Revolution. President George Bush Jr. referred to America’s dependence on foreign oil as nothing short of an addiction.

Over the past four decades U.S. presidents have waxed and waned eloquently about the need to reduce the country’s dependence on imported oil. Yet the U.S. economy still relies on imports for more than 50% of the 19 million barrels of oil burned every day. As a result, the U.S. remains as vulnerable to soaring oil prices as it was during the OPEC shocks in the 1970s.

In many ways, Obama’s plan is reminiscent of his predecessors by supporting more government subsidies for energy alternatives such as nuclear and bio fuels. Higher fuel efficiency standards will be mandated for cars and trucks.  And, of course, there will be increased reliance on offshore drilling for deep water oil and on hydraulic fracturing in pursuit of America’s new wonder fuel: shale gas.

Unfortunately, these initiatives have in one way or another been tried before by previous administrations. And many look less credible than they have in the past.

As the Fukushima nuclear disaster threatens Japan with a Chernobyl-like legacy,

President Obama is unlikely to find much support for more nuclear power in a country that already has more nuclear plants (and more radioactive spent fuel lying around) than any other in the world.

And so far the diversion of food production to energy generation, like the 12 billion gallons of corn-based ethanol that America pumps out every year, has had a far greater impact on  raising  food and fertilizer prices than on lowering energy prices.

While greater fuel efficiency is a laudable goal, past improvements in fuel efficiency have only encouraged Americans to drive more each year,- about 30% more than at the time of the OPEC oil shocks. And they haven’t been filling up their tanks with shale gas either, which has only a quarter of the energy density of either gasoline or diesel.

So far, recessions have been the only sure fire way America has cut back on its fuel consumption and the need for oil imports. But, of course, that is not an option any U.S. president can pursue.

  • Real Albertan

    Better fuel economy standards help but only so much. Obama should have invested in bike infastructure and cycling promotion. Given the nice climates in much of the US I find it funny that the top 2 cycling cities are in the north,

    1. Minneapolis
    2. Portland

  • icosa

    One of the USA Government’s objectives is to reduce the coutnry’s oil dependence on Middle Eastern countries by 75% by 2020.. ( source) so here the next cycling cities comming up ;-)

  • Doug H

    Vancouver recently installed some bike lanes downtown and locals still gripe about it. As oil approches new highs and we start cycling more, this fore sight will pay massive dividends as well as put Weight Watchers out of business …..


    It really doesn’t matter what any US Government Energy policy is implemented. The terms of oil consumption are going to be dictated by the price and availability on the world market.
    Any shortages in the market are going to be borne firstly by the very poorest of countries but their consumption is very low.
    The next country to be affected is going to be the US.
    In the near future China will export their inflation to the US by making their currency freely tradeable on the world market (this will make their resource imports cheaper).
    The US will be impacted by 4 things, Increasing Oil prices, Increasing cost of Imports as China revalues and the other Asian nations follow, Increasing Food prices due to bad weather in a number of countries and dumbass biofuel schemes, another bubble in the US Stock market due to printed money being advanced to keep the market on an upward trajectory to promote confidence (the Geitner Doctrine).
    Interest rates on US Govt bonds will have to be raised both to generate sales (a zero interest rate won’t attract buyers, a rate at least comparable with inflation is required) and to dampen inflation.
    A very deep long lasting recession is the end result of these factors, so the world market and a recessed US economy is going to dictate that the US reduces Oil imports by 30% over the next 7-10 years.
    Doesn’t matter who the government is or what their policies are, what’s going to happen is like the law of gravity.
    I’m sure that Fox news and others will be telling us of the virtues of the free market in the unlikely event they stay in business.

  • Steve Manders

    I have completed plotting world oil production, price and population from 1980 to 2010. My oil data is from the EIA.

    From 1985 to 2005, world oil production increased quite steadily from 59 mbpd (million barrels per day) to 84.6 mbpd in 2005, or 1.25 mbpd per year, or 8.9 % each 5 years.

    The world population increased at a similar rate (7.1 %) , oil kept up with population growth. The price remained relatively low, a bit erratic up to 2000.

    In 2000, the price began to soar, even though production kept up with population, The population in China and India developed a taste for oil and demand for oil that exceeded availability, this started the price soaring.. The world population grows 7.1 % every 5 years. ( 500 million people )

    In 2005, world oil production leveled out over the next 5 years to 2010, or 1.7 mbpd, or 2.07 % while the world population grew by 7.1 %, Meanwhile, China and India continue to use more per capita, while the west used 10 % less. At this point, there was a per capita reduction in world oil from 13.15 bpd/ 1000 people, to 12.6 bpd /1000 people. We just passed world per capita Peak Oil in 2005. China continued to use more per capita, when the world had less per person, despite a slight increase in absolute production.

    World oil production from 2005 to 2010 was remarkably steady but flat, especially when one considers that the price went from $60 to $143, to $30 and back to $100. Oil production is maxed out and is insensitive to price changes, up or down. It can no longer meet global demand, we are experiencing “demand destruction.” while we experience the peak of Peak Oil. The peak was predicted by many to be about this time, my graphs confirm that it is occuring now.

    We passed world per capita peak oil in 2005 and are now using 5 % less per capita. Our habit have not changed and we are experiencing sharp price increases which will force our usage down, to meet the supply.

    I expect that world oil supply will decline about 5 % in the next 5 years, while the world population continues to grow at 7.1%, creating a net short fall of 12 % in only 5 years. China will continue to use more per capita, A very sharp reduction in oil consumption will be forced on the west which causing great disruption.

    Oil price
    January 1999 $9.67 a barrel <<<<<<< it's true, look it up.
    avg. 2000 20.00
    avg. 2005 40.00
    avg. 2010 80.00
    Mar 2011 $105.00 see a trend here? The rate of increase is accelerating and will continue to accelerate.
    You wont like what is next.

  • Enviro Skeptic

    With the current usage weightwatchers has nothing to worry about.

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    If things keep going the way they are, by 2020 there won’t be a need for bike lanes. The roads will be empty of motor vehicles and perfectly safe for cyclists of all abilities.

  • Moonshine Pete

    Bio fuel from food is a horrible idea. Higher global food prices have led to political instability in North Africa and as result of that and peak oil we now pay over $110 a barrel. Don’t get me wrong I am all for bio fuel from waste (it we can make that work) but bio fuel from food will starve people and lead to more political instability.

    Feed an African for a year or fill up your hummer with bio fuel. What do you think is the best for the world?

  • Enviro Skeptic

    The production of steel for bicycles is a source of considerable pollution and they should be banned. Bamboo or other wood bikes only.

    Promote Ped Xing. Out with bicyclists!

  • Abitibidoug

    Would it be better to produce even more steel for even more cars, rather than a small amount to make a lot of bicycles?

  • Enviro Skeptic

    On a miles traveled per pound of steel over a product life cycle, bicycles don’t cut it and are a drag on the environment net-net. Besides, they are not used by 99% of people over thirty and never will be. My father has 5 old ones stacked up in the garage that you can’t sell for $5 even though they are in like new condition( but old style).

  • Enviro Skeptic

    This doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition which various deluded interests try to promote.

  • Abitibidoug

    My 1985 vintage Raleigh bicycle goes an average of 700 kilometres a season, mostly short trips around town. Do the math, 25 years (not counting the small distance travelled this season) multiplied by 700 gives me 17,500 kilometres. Again, I remind you these trips are short ones, that if made by car, would be when it’s not warmed up yet so it consumes more fuel and generates more air pollution per kilometre than on a longer trip. Somehow I fail to see how the 30 pounds of steel (it’s heavy) used to make the bike don’t justify the fuel consumption and air pollution avoided, as well as 3 less oil changes. Oh, and did I mention that I am 50 years old, which is 20 years more than the age where you wrongly assume that no one rides bicycles?

  • Mohamed

    giving up your family car for a bike, will never happen nowadays, bio fuel from food is a horrible path to more hunger and destruction, nuclear plants are too dangerous, but electric cars or hydrogen fueled automobiles need further improvement and seems very reasonable. improving public transport such as tram-ways & buses is also a v good idea especially in North America which lacks terribly in providing decent transports to its citizens while at the same time encouraging ownership of more cars.
    cycling in 2011 to do your shopping with your family is not a good idea. clean energy public transport should be the future!! m sure we can do that!

  • Enviro Skeptic

    I walk to and from work at about 42 km per week and have been doing so for 16 years (32000km). No steel required. Every bicyclist I know is always trading up to the latest alloy model about every 2 or three years while crowing about how they are saving the world. It’s a joke.

    I still say that among people who use a bicycle regularily for transportation you won’t find too many over 30′s. You should be careful at your advanced age because your sense of balance may not be as good as you think it is. You’re no spring chicken.

  • Unc

    Jeff,as a rule,I always aggree with you on your veiw,however,I have to disagree with you on the natural gas subject,as you full-well-know,natural gas has become abundent in north america,due to, new wave tech.In my mind,natural gas will be our saviour,against the price shock,s that you have accuratley predicted.The markets will move ng,and we will adopt this new energy source.the markets always rule,at the end of the day.Unc.fsj

  • Enviro Skeptic

    Nuclear plants are not dangerous and are the only dependable source of clean electricity to power your cars other than hydro,oil and natural gas.

  • Abitibidoug

    I’m slow to reply because it was a beautiful spring day, and I was out bike riding among other things. You must be in some very wealthy neighbourhood to see these people trading up bikes so frequently, or perhaps it’s all in your imagination or seeing what you want to see. I know a lot of people who are bicyclists and keep the same bike for many years for reasons of simple economics. I also see a lot of older bikes in bike racks wherever I go.

    As for my balance it continues to serve me just fine for many activities, not just biking. For example, I had no problem kayaking in the rapids on the main channel of the Ottawa River (with a bicycle at the take out point for the shuttle back to the put in I should add) last summer so it’s not a problem. I’ve seen a lot of bicyclists who are older than I am and they do just fine, in fact some are in very good shape.

  • Mohamed

    nuclear energy generation has different forms, but I what I meant by dangerous is what we have right now in Japan, of course nuclear plants are dangerous

  • Enviro Skeptic

    That’s good. I really hope you were not using one of those fiberglass kayaks. Definately a no-no for the environment…oil product. Use canvas over wood or, sealskin if available.

    There are very few bicyclists over 30 who don’t also have a car. Only very serious types and very, very rare breed.

  • Enviro Skeptic

    They are using very old steam pressure units and technology but nevertheless they were ruined by the tsunami not by a malfunction. If located inland they would be okay. Candu is a much safer design and can use thorium, I believe. It would be unfortunate if this event slows down the proliferation of nuclear power. I say get rid of windmills and solar preferably.

  • CmacP
  • Mohamed

    I find windmills an eye soar too, but being in Bahrain where the sun shines for 11 months a year, I feel its a free source that much can be done with, so I m a bit of a solar energy partisan and renewable energy in general. however I admit m no expert in the field, but alarmed by the damage industry has done to nature and its impact on living conditions.

  • Enviro Skeptic

    You wouldn’t know it from the increase in hotel rates over last year.

  • Enviro Skeptic

    Considering the amount of power that has been produced since 1956 (the first power up) and the very few people that have been killed or harmed by the industry it is unfortunate that people will turn now against nuclear. Greenpeace (etc.) idiots fan the paranoia out of proportion. The greens claim 4500 people die of pollution in downtown Toronto every summer which is more than 5 times the number killed by the nuclear power industry since it started.

  • blogmaniak

    I agree with UNC, natgas is a very good alternative to our fuel demands in the medium term. The low refining requirements, pump-deliver-burn capability and low carbon emission makes it the most logical fuel to replace Oil and Coal; until we can figure out safer nuclear and solar panels on moon type of alternatives. Shale gas is new tech, which obviously has some challenges, but US companies are already engaged to figure out ways of treating the contamination being caused by these extraction techniques.