Steps to Energy Security

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Sebastian Mallaby ["What 'Energy Security' Really Means," op-ed, July 3] provides a sensible contrast to the hype that often accompanies energy discussions. Yet he errs on two counts. The first is in describing China's energy security strategy solely as "buying stakes in foreign oil fields." China is not driven by a false sense of security (at least not fully). Chinese oil companies are involved in exploration and production, helping to bring oil to market. Given that lagging investment is one reason oil prices are so high, this is not an unreasonable policy.

The second error is to assume that producers and consumers have identical interests. At one level, this surely exists: Producers and consumers have a common interest in energy markets. But producers tend to want political benefits from their energy, while consumers prefer access to energy with few strings attached. This divergence produces tensions; for Russia and Iran, for Venezuela and Bolivia, oil and gas will never be just commodities. Energy security can build on common bonds, but there are inherent limits to a purely commercial approach to energy.




Finally, the discussion about energy security has progressed beyond how we can continue to finance our voracious energy appetite. Sebastian Mallaby correctly points out that the United States cannot continue to operate in a vacuum when it comes to our to unconstrained energy consumption habits; we must begin to operate as a part of the global energy market with an understanding that there is not an unlimited supply of oil designated for our exclusive use.

The energy security dilemma has a Cold War predecessor known as security dilemma theory. This was defined as a decrease in security through an increase in offensive weapons that at the end of the day made a country more vulnerable due to overreliance on what turned out to be an inadequate defense. This theory gives rise to a new energy security dilemma.

This dilemma is exemplified by our "Potemkin pipeline" thinking with regard to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This reserve has lulled Washington decision makers into thinking that we can go it alone even though our oil consumption per day is nearly three times that of our production. The strategic reserve has only a 90-day supply.

Such flawed thinking has jeopardized our overall energy security and places the United States in a much weaker position today than ever before. We must work with oil producers as well as with other consumer nations to develop a sustainable energy consumption strategy before we come to a point where competition for remaining oil reserves will erase all hope of cooperation.



The writer is a consultatnt to oil companies in the Caspian Sea


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