The New Global Oil Market: Understanding Energy Issues in the World Economy

By Siamack Shojai | Go to book overview

Chapter 21 Petroleum and National Security

David L. Weimer

Secure access to petroleum has been an important factor in international relations throughout this century ( Yergin 1991). The switch of fuel for ships from coal to oil, soon followed by the mechanization of ground forces and the development of airpower, made petroleum an essential military commodity. Indeed, restricted access to petroleum influenced the strategies, and contributed to the eventual defeats, of Japan and Germany in World War II. Of even greater significance today is the widespread use of petroleum as an input in transportation, electricity generation, space heating, and the petrochemical industry. Because petroleum is such an important input to modern industrialized economies, large and sudden rises in crude oil prices can have negative economic effects: reduced domestic product, increased unemployment, and greater price inflation. It is the vulnerability of economies to such oil price shocks, rather than access to crude oil per se, that today lies at the heart of the energy security problem for the United States and other net importers of petroleum.

This chapter focuses on the energy security of the United States. While most of the discussion applies to other net importers of petroleum, two factors distinguish the circumstances of U.S. energy security policy from that of most other countries. First, because the United States accounts for a large fraction of the world demand for crude oil (26 percent in 1992; 15.9 million barrels/day of petroleum consumption versus world crude oil production of 60.4 million barrels/day), its energy security policies have potential for affecting the world price of oil. Second, because the United States has substantial domestic production (8.98 million barrels/day of crude oil and natural gas plant production in 1992), its energy security policies involve substantial distributional effects of political significance. These points have relevance to both the effectiveness and political feasibility of alternative U.S. energy security policies.

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