By Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I see a lot of fanfare applauding increased oil production in the U.S. and the increase is truly remarkable. We are producing nearly 2 million more barrels of oil a day than government (EIA) experts had predicted ten years ago. But here’s what is truly astounding: We are consuming over 5 million barrels less in oil a day than had been predicted in 2003. So, there is no question we are making dramatic strides in the oil sector, but we are doing twice as well on the conservation side of the ledger than we are in production.
Oil conservation lacks the sizzle that energy production enjoys. After all, you don’t see people striking it rich by taking a train to work, by driving an electric car, or converting their business’ fleet to run on natural gas. What’s worse, not only does it lack sizzle, some public figures say oil conservation isn’t even a serious approach to energy policy. Vice President Cheney famously said conservation is a “sign of personal virtue, but … not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”
But as a nation, in order to continue to improve our energy security, insulate our economy from high oil prices, and address climate change, we will continue to accomplish a lot more by using less oil than by producing more oil. It’s less exciting than an oil geyser, but the opportunity is simply much bigger. Increasing oil production in the U.S. helps our energy security and our economy, but increasing domestic production is often described as the healer of all wounds. Unfortunately it is not.
If it were, oil prices would not be so stubbornly high. Oil is traded in a worldwide market, so our increased production has been drowned out by increased demand elsewhere. But thanks to increased fuel economy standards, investment in public transportation, and a burgeoning market in alternative fuel vehicles, Americans do not need nearly as much oil to achieve mobility as once predicted. And we have a lot more improvement to do. After all, we use twice as much oil per capita as the United Kingdom and Germany and a third more than Australia.
Despite our exceptional prowess in drilling for oil, we simply cannot drill our way out of our problems. To address climate change, drive down prices, and truly end the world’s dependence on energy from unstable parts of the world, we need to use a lot less oil. The good news is that we have gotten off to a great start.