By Jan Mueller and Ray Long
With the Republican National Convention beginning in Tampa this week, followed by the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte next week, the presidential campaign season is rapidly gaining energy. The importance of energy as a campaign issue, however, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, this is a critical time to be asking tough questions of both candidates about America’s energy challenges.
Last week, the Romney campaign released a white paper titled The Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class: Energy Independence. It outlines a plan that Team Romney claims will achieve “North American energy independence by 2020″ (“North American” is emphasized as Canada and Mexico factor strongly into the Romney plan). The white paper quotes extensively from recent reports making boldly optimistic forecasts for North American oil and gas—such work by Citigroup and Leonardo Maugeri.
Brad Plumer of the Washington Post points to five problems with the Romney plan, noting in particular that “energy independence can’t protect the United States from high oil prices.”
Ultimately, public opinion on energy issues does not turn on discussions of shale oil, offshore drilling, pipelines, or even energy independence. Most people simply want to know “how much will energy cost my family now and in the future?” Recent pronouncements of energy independence and a new age for American oil and gas production mean little to a family struggling to make ends meet, watching the price at the corner gas station continue to creep upward year after year—despite an economy in recession, and US demand at historic lows. Based on their own experience, many families already understand that we are entering a new energy reality.
This presidential election, the number one question that ASPO-USA is asking is: does either candidate understand the new energy reality that America is facing? After a century of abundant, relatively inexpensive supply, oil and gas are becoming more costly and difficult to extract from the ground, and world oil supply apparently has stopped growing. Meanwhile, global demand continues to rise, and more nations are competing for limited oil exports. The implications of this historic turning point are monumental and far-reaching, and loom over virtually every economic and fiscal issue on the national agenda.
Actually, there is reason to believe that both President Obama and Governor Romney have some grasp of the limits concerning oil and gas supply. Governor Romney was a friend and colleague of the late great Matt Simmons, and has spoken with admiration about his work and legacy. President Obama is reported to have been advised by a number of sources about the Peak Oil issue, including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu. The President’s rhetoric that we cannot “drill our way” out of our energy problems is consistent with at least a basic understanding of the issue.
Neither presidential candidate, however, has spoken directly and openly about the issue during the campaign, nor are they likely to. Candidates generally are not looking to add to the list of issues they need to address, and the risks of misstatement are simply too great. The goal for ASPO-USA, and anyone concerned about our new energy reality and its consequences, is to gain the attention of public officials and other leaders in less overt ways, and chart a course for serious action after the election.
Note: We know of only one instance of a U.S. President using the term “Peak Oil” in public remarks, and then only after leaving office. In a 2006 speech, Bill Clinton discussed the peak in U.S. oil production in 1970—referencing both Matt Simmons and James Kunstler’s book, The Long Emergency.
Jan Lars Mueller is Executive Director for the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas USA (ASPO-USA), which promotes open dialogue and understanding of Peak Oil, resource depletion, and the role of energy in the economy. ASPO-USA is hosting its annual conference November 30 – December 1 in Austin, Texas.
D. Ray Long serves as the Assistant Director for ASPO-USA and resides in Washington D.C. He received his Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University and a Masters in Engineering studying alternative energy at Wayne State University. Previously he served as a consultant focusing on residential appliance energy standards for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star program.