General John Abizaid, the Central Commander of the Middle East and African regions, including Iraq, from 2003 to 2007, stated in a visit to Brigham Young University last week that the United States will continue to have conflict in the Middle East as long as it remains dependent on Arab oil. However, the U.S. now produces over forty percent of the oil it uses daily. We have seen a shift in the priorities at the White House too, as President Obama’s rhetoric moved from the environment towards exploiting domestic oil reserves. In reality, the U.S. only imports about fifteen percent of its oil from the Middle East, mainly Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The rest comes mostly from the Western Hemisphere. We import the most oil from Canada (approximately 9-10%), then Venezuela, Mexico, and Nigeria follow Saudi Arabia. So if the US is not dependent on Arab oil, why should we worry about sustained conflict with the Middle East because of oil?
The answer lies in the future of American oil demands and reserves. The world’s population is projected to double in four decades. With it, the demand for oil will grow. The United States already consumes a quarter of the world’s daily oil production. American engineers and politicians are working to exploit more of the United States’ untapped oil reserves. In 2011, national oil production reached 5.7 million barrels a day. The Energy Department has predicted that daily output could reach nearly seven million barrels by 2020. Other experts think that the U.S. might even be able to produce ten million barrels a day, which would put it at roughly the same production level as Saudi Arabia.
However, with the demand for oil and for land as population increases, the United States will find itself less and less able to meet the national demand. In order to keep prices lower, it will have to import Arab oil because, in the long run, as oil runs thin in the Western Hemisphere, the Middle East will be producing the most oil. They have the largest reserves in the world, which are estimated to harbor about 683.5 billion barrels. That is two thirds of the world’s reserves. The next largest reserves lie in Central and South America with roughly 94.5 billion barrels remaining, which is only nine percent of the world’s total. Consequently, decades down the road, the United States and the rest of the world, including more of the developing world as time goes on, will find themselves turning to the Middle East to meet their oil needs.
The United States’ security need not be dependent on Arab oil. Domestic drilling is certainly a step in the right direction toward oil independence, just as the creation of more fuel-efficient cars is. Yet, more needs to be done. The Obama administration approved a large fund for building better public transportation, including high-speed trains, but very little has actually being done in that regard. Sixty-four percent of oil demand in the United States goes to vehicles, so the sooner we can replace vehicles with a oil-less substitute, the sooner American demand for oil will drop drastically. Four decades is not a lot of time to change the infrastructure of the whole United States, so change needs to begin now. These sorts of changes take time, and as long as the American public does not want another Middle Eastern war, energy efficiency should be a top priority.