To Have and Have Not: Energy security vs energy independence in a world awash in cheap oil

February 23, 2016 |

BD-TS-energysecurity-022416-smThe following slides and comments are excerpted and expanded from remarks by Digest editor & publisher Jim Lane at the Energy Security Breakfast at ABLC 2016, held last week in Washington.

The premise I’d like to explore today is a simple one to describe, and oft-heard around Washington these days.

We live in a world awash in low-cost oil and natural gas, electric cars have arrived, OPEC is in tatters, so we don’t need to focus on energy security anymore.

And let’s examine comments made this week by US Pacific Forces commander Admiral Harry Harris. When asked during a hearing this week by the Senate Armed Forces Committee whether China was “militarizing the South China Sea,” he replied: “You have to believe in a flat earth to think otherwise. I believe China seeks hegemony in East Asia.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in separate testimony, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the US is “encouraging the peaceful resolution of competing maritime claims in the South China Sea – a goal that is definitely not helped by the militarization of facilities in that region.”

Let’s investigate those themes, and the state of the world economy as a threat multiplier, and diversified energy supplies as a force multiplier — in the context of how energy competition, and energy isolationism — can lead to ruinous war.

ABLC-2016-Energy Security.001

Here’s an old slide from 1941. When we think of 1941 we generally think of December 7th. But what caused, in a proximate way, the events of that day? Here’s a headline from The Mercury which tells that tale. It’s an oil embargo, led by the United States on the premise that aggression in Asia represented a “threat to America”.

As Jörg Friendichs wrote in Energy Policy in 2010:

When an American oil embargo became imminent, in 1941, Japan preemptively attacked the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbor and radicalized its war of conquest in order to gain access to the rich oil supplies of the East Indies.”

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