Thus far, it has been nothing more than a daydream for millions for Americans. We have dreamed of the day on which some future president would appear on TV and say, "My fellow Americans, I am happy to be able to tell you that we are now free of our dependence on imported oil."
My own guess was that we would hear that announcement in the wake of a scientific breakthrough involving an alternative fuel for automobiles. However two of yesterday's front page stories indicate I was wrong.
Oil analysts tell us that in the year 2000 we will still be using gasoline, but will have enough of it to get by without OPEC. Washington Post staff writer Joanne Omang cities experts who say we can achieve this goal by concentrating on a three-pronged policy: conservation, increased exploration in our own country, and automobiles that run 55 miles on a gallon of gasoline.
Omang warns that many experts disagree with this optimistic forecast. Even the optimists concede that many things can go wrong in 19 years, and that in the year 2000 we may still be dependent on imported oil. Nevertheless, it's nice to know that we are makin progress.
It is even more reassuring to look at some pertinent statistics. As recently as 1977, four years after the OPEC cartel put us on notice that it had the power to cut off our oil supplies, we were importing 8.8 million barrels of oil a day, or 6,100 barrels a minute around the clock. We were dependent on imports for half our daily oil consumption.
When President Carter said he was determined to reduce oil imports by 1985, few analysts-thought we could do it that quickly. But we have already surpassed Carter's goal. Oil imports are now down to 5.8 million barrels a day, and there is reason to hope the trend will continue.
Washington Post staff writer John M. Berry's report yesterday said OPEC no longer holds all the cards in the world oil market and indeed "may already have overplayed its hand." Berry quoted oil analysts who said the oil cartel "may never again be able to inflict such economic plan on the world without harming their own long-term economic prospects as well."
Both writers made it plain that it is far too soon to begin celebrating the end of the oil crisis. Even if we continue to conserve, explore and buy fuel-efficient cars, we will remain at the mercy of events in the unstable Middle East until perhaps 1995.
If we are still on course in 1995, there will be time enough to begin planning a celebration.
We may even find time when for some serious reflection on how we got into this mess in the first place.