The claim that politics are a lagging indicator of the times seems especially true in light of Republican presidential primary candidates’ campaign promises of energy independence. Many of the top-tier contenders have vowed it as part of their recent campaign announcements.
Old habits die hard. An uninterrupted string of presidents dating back to Richard Nixon have made this energy independence pledge. But for this crop of contenders, the promise is moot; the country has already achieved it.
Granted, the United States still imports 5 million barrels of oil a day — 27 percent of the 19 million barrels of domestic consumption. But this is down 60 percent from the 12.5 million barrels of imports in 2005. If you exclude the 2.6 million barrels of imports from Canada, the United States imports only 2.4 million barrels, a mere 13 percent of consumption.
In 2011, President Barack Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University where he called for oil imports to be cut by one-third by 2025. No thanks to current policies, the country has already achieved this goal — 10 years ahead of schedule. More important, imports from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which are no friends of liberty or in some cases America, have fallen even more precipitously — by 46 percent, from 5.6 million barrels in 2005 to 3 million today.
Thus, while we may not be truly energy “independent” where we produce every drop we consume, we are by all means energy secure. Americans no longer are threatened with price spikes, rationing and long lines at the pump. (The country has already been energy “independent” in the two other main forms of energy — heat and electricity — for decades.)
For proof of this security, observe how the oil price is no longer held hostage by the goings-on in the Middle East. The region’s recent chaos, highlighted by the advance of the Islamic State, has had little to no effect on the oil price, which has been trading around $50 to $60 a barrel since December.
Contrast this to when Obama gave his Georgetown speech, when the Arab Spring was roiling oil prices on a roller coaster ride above $100 a barrel. This was completely typical when for decades even the slightest geopolitical machinations in the Middle East sent the oil price spiking and American consumers spinning.
This price security improves the country’s national security. Foreign policy no longer needs to be influenced by the security of Middle East oil, meaning it can focus solely on true threats to the country. No longer do troops need to secure the flow of oil from abroad because American private ingenuity has done so at home.
The story of how this energy security has come about is well known. The shale oil revolution, made possible by fracking, reversed the decades-long decline in domestic supply to the point where oil is not only available but also priced to sell. This year was the first Independence Day weekend that drivers enjoyed gas prices below $3 a gallon since 2010.
This revolution could have happened only in America. The freedom of U.S. labor laws, system of strong property rights, liquidity of financial markets, old-fashioned work ethic, and (for the most part) clear environmental regulations necessary for its success are unique to the United States.
This energy security acts as a bridge to an even more secure, affordable and sustainable future. Rather than going back to worn-out talking points and calling for energy independence, presidential primary candidates should make the case for the underlying principles that allowed it to occur in the first place and lead Americans across that bridge. That would truly be a leading indicator.
Doug Haugh is president of Mansfield Oil and a member of the Job Creators Network. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.