James Woolsey: "End Oil Addiction Now"
April 15, 2010 in Renewables - Politics by Kathy-Heshelow
James Woolsey wrote an interesting opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning. Mr. Woolsey is a former director of the CIA, has served in four administrations, is a foreign policy expert and Rhodes Scholar. He is also dedicated to renewable energy and energy security – in short, moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. Woolsey is a venture partner with VantagePoint, chairs the Strategic Advisory Group of Paladin Capital Group and is Counsel at Goodwin Proctor specializing in alternative energy and security. There are numerous posts on this blog on Woolsey – so readers have no shortage of material on the man.
In the opinion piece, “How to End America’s Addition to Oil,” Woolsey plants the seed of urgency by reminding us that oil is now solidly above $80 per barrel, moving consistently higher over the last five quarters. “If oil reaches $125 a barrel again…then approximately half the wealth in the world…will be controlled by OPEC nations,” he says. He has been sounding the alarm for years, as have others, about the issues of oil dependence.
In testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations given in 2005, Woolsey stressed that changes in Middle East power could easily cut us off at the knees, and that our petroleum infrastructure is vulnerable to terrorists. We don’t have control over supply or stability of oil. And oil wealth allows dictators to control their people as well. Woolsey notes in the Wall Street piece that eight of the top nine oil exporters are dictatorships or autocrats (all except Norway).
The spread of Wahhabi doctrine plays a major role in Middle Eastern terrorist groups, who are fanatically hostile to Christians, Jews, Shi’ites, women, modern culture, etc. He emphasized this point in the Senate testimony and in other speeches and articles. In a 2007 interview, he said that Saudi Arabia made $160 billion in 2005 from oil, and they gave several billion to Wahhabis across the Islamic world. So in essence, as the major oil consumer, we are paying for and helping support enemies. (The Futurist. “Ending the Oil Era”. July-August 2007).
Clean renewable energy is important to different people for different reasons. For some, like Woolsey, green energy means that we are actively moving in the right direction for national security, lessening dependence on volatile or hostile producers. For others, supporting green energy means that the US can develop new jobs, new industries and a stronger economy. For those concerned about peak oil, green energy means moving beyond the eventual fading of fossil fuels to more renewable and sustainable sources. And yet for others, shifting to renewable energy is important because it helps clean up the environment and assuage concerns over climate change. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you support one — or all the reasons. They are all valid reasons, and taken together, vital.
While our oil has peaked and there is not enough to sustain our demand long-term with no change to our habits or policy, we do have natural gas resources. Woolsey supports T. Boone Picken’s recommendations to use natural gas for fleet vehicles and trucking.
Natural Gas and Pickens
I attended a Pickens seminar a few months back in which he was discussing his plans for natural gas and efforts in D.C. Pickens, like Woolsey, focuses on
national security and his concern about giving away wealth and power to OPEC. His efforts right now are on converting the eight million 18 wheeler trucks in the U.S. to natural gas. He points out that they cannot be moved by battery power — or even ethanol. If we require that these trucks switch to natural gas, we can cut our OPEC imports in half, he says.
He was in D.C. to discuss Senate bill 1408 and House bill 1835 (addressing this issue), and said he hopes it may pass by Memorial Day. In his down-home way, he also said (referring to the U.S. having no energy plan), “A fool with a plan beats a genius with no plan any day”.
The U.S. has failed in implementing any national energy policy or plan – a disaster that not only strengthens OPEC but weakens us. The U.S. is late to the renewable game, and we have a long way to go. China is spending and investing $12 million dollars an hour on clean energy, says John Podesta, President of the Center for American Progress. The current U.S. administration has committed some $400 million to remake a multi-trillion dollar landscape.
Woolsey and many others have for many years pointed out the problems. But in order to shift away from oil, there has to be a strong plan and support. “Drill, baby, drill” doesn’t cut it. Even if we turn to unconventional oil sources (tar sands in Canada, shale in the West, etc.), the high cost of production is a disadvantage.
OPEC, who has low costs and large reserves, may simply drop prices or increase production to undermine competitors. We can’t simply drill our way out of the oil problem long-term.
Paul Roberts wrote in his book, The End of Oil, “…American policymakers are too paralyzed to act, terrified that to change the U.S. energy patterns would threaten the nation’s economy and geopolitical status – not to mention outrage voters… The energy superpower has not only surrendered its once-awesome edge…but made it less and less likely that an effective solution…will be deployed in time.” (Paul Roberts. The End of Oil. Houghton Mifflin, 2004.)
Woolsey’s Suggestions for Immediate Energy Action
Back to Woolsey and his opinion piece – his immediate suggestions are:
1) Use new electronic modifications for internal combustion for better energy efficiency
2) Follow T. Boone Pickens’ suggestion of shifting fleet vehicles to natural
gas (of which there is an abundance in the U.S.)
3) Force petroleum products to compete with other fuels, like biomass.
4) Require all new vehicles to be “flexible fuel, open standard.”. He points out that Brazil accomplished this in several years.
5) Electrify vehicles as much as possible (electric or hybrid plug-in). He points out that three out of four Americans travel less than 40 miles per day (the current range of our most popular battery packs) until new innovations come along.
Strike a Blow Quickly
Woolsey stressed that we need to move quickly to “strike a major blow at oil
and OPEC’s dominance” and we should adopt a portfolio approach. We need to use what we have and draw on improvements as they become practical. Teddy Roosevelt, Woolsey reminds us, improved competition by breaking up the Standard Oil cartel. He sees a parallel need to break up the OPEC cartel.