Energy Security: It Takes More Than Drilling

Article excerpt

THE savagery of Sept. 11 confirmed that both Mideast oil dependence and fragile infrastructure threaten national security. Replacing Mideast oil is vital, but not by substituting equally or more vulnerable domestic sources.

Domestic energy systems aren't secure unless they're designed to make large-scale failures impossible and local failures benign. Today the opposite is true: The United States' extraordinarily concentrated energy flows invite and reward devastating attack.

Two decades ago, two of us authored and one wrote the foreword to a Pentagon study called Brittle Power: Energy Strategy for National Security. It found - and little has changed since - that a handful of people could shut down three-quarters of the oil and gas supplies to the Eastern states (without leaving Louisiana), cut the power to any major city, or kill millions by crashing an airliner into a nuclear power plant. Expanding centralized and vulnerable energy systems didn't protect national security then, and it won't now.

Energy security starts with using less energy far more efficiently to do the same tasks. The next step is to obtain more energy from sources that are inherently invulnerable because they're dispersed, diverse, and increasingly renewable. Meanwhile, we must not increase reliance on existing vulnerable systems. This strategy doesn't cost more; indeed, it's already winning in the marketplace.

Oil fuels 97 percent of US mobility. Relying for 13 percent of US oil supply on the pathological predators and vulnerable autocrats of the Mideast - home of at least two-thirds of the world's reserves - is a tragedy waiting to happen. We need not just another crude-oil source, but also an inherently secure supply chain delivering useful transportation fuels all the way to customers - then using those fuels productively so we need less. Alternatives can supply a bigger share, and stockpiles last longer.

EFFICIENCY is the first and cheapest rapid-deployment energy resource. In 2000, America used 40 percent less energy and 49 percent less oil to produce each dollar of GDP than in 1975. Those savings are now the nation's largest "source" - five times domestic oil output. Most were achieved in just six years, from 1979 to 1985, when gross domestic product grew 16 percent, total oil use fell 15 percent, and Gulf imports fell 87 percent.

Modern efficiency technologies can put another $300 billion a year back into Americans' pockets. Just a 2.7-m.p.g. better light- vehicle fleet could save as much petroleum as we import from the Persian Gulf.

Saving oil is the fastest way to blunt OPEC's market power, beat down prices, and expand invulnerable sources' share of energy supply. Billions of dollars in annual military fuel-saving opportunities just found by the Defense Science Board would also let US armed forces fight more effectively far from home.

New ways to supply fuel from renewable sources can be secure, fast, and competitive. Urban, industrial, farm, and forest wastes and soil-replenishing crops, such as prairie grass, can yield clean transportation fuels, electricity, fertilizer, and substitutes for petrochemicals. …