New American Oil Boom: Will It Slow DoD's Renewable Energy Momentum?

Article excerpt

* The Defense Department has been focused over two administrations on energy efficiency at the national and defense levels.

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Both in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, field commanders have recognized the need for much better energy efficiency on the battlefield. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis famously said the military should be released from the "tether of fuel." Another Marine Corps leader, Lt. Gen. Richard C. Zilmer, requested renewable energy for his field operations.

Both experienced first hand the difficulty of transporting liquid fuels. The logistics of fuel was expensive in terms of operational efficiency, dollars and lives.

By the way, this is not a new challenge for the military. On average more than 70 percent of the tonnage that forces bring to the battlefield is a liquid: fuel and water. Most of the fuel is needed to power forward-operating bases, and for aviation. Combat vehicles consume only about 10 percent of the liquid fuel on the battlefield. This recognition has led to numerous studies on energy and fuel and several initiatives in the Defense Department for energy efficiency with a particular focus on petroleum.

Lately, however, the increased production of natural gas and petroleum in the United States has rekindled the advocacy of energy independence in favor of more domestic oil and gas drilling. If only we will start to drill more and harvest more, the argument goes, this will free us of our dependence on foreign sources and bring energy prices down.

A series of recent analyses by retired military officers takes a different tack, and sheds some light on the issues and suggests a way ahead. The first set is a series of studies conducted by a military advisory board of retired generals and admirals under the auspices of the Center for Naval Analyses. The most recent study focused on petroleum. It concluded that our reliance on fossil fuels constitutes a significant national security threat to the United States and that we should pursue a more diverse mix of transportation fuels, rather than continuing our overreliance on oil as a singular fuel source. Its role as a singular source constitutes a unique vulnerability as we have few other alternatives. It affects the nation's balance of payments, as $1 billion per day is spent on petroleum. It forces the United States to do business with countries that don't share our values, and in some cases wish to do us harm. As former CIA Director and energy expert Jim Wolsey says, "We are funding both sides of the war on terror."

Another problem with oil is that the market is unstable, as prices are subject to change as a result of unpredictable events. It forces reliance on unreliable suppliers, it is difficult to transport into combat zones, it exposes U.S. and allied troops to unnecessary dangers in the logistics of delivery. But it currently has no substitutes.

A recent investigation, also authored by a group of retired military officers and industry leaders, reinforces some of the same points and adds new analysis. …