The United States is back in an energy crisis, with record gas prices because of disruptions stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many nations have rightly taken steps to halt or sharply reduce Russian energy purchases in an effort to choke off Vladimir Putin’s economy. But the shunning of Russian oil — which accounts for more than 10 percent of worldwide consumption — is causing a huge supply problem.
It’s become a popular talking point to demand that the United States become “energy independent” immediately. But oil prices are largely set on the global market. Even if U.S. producers ramp up production, they can’t make up the nearly 5 million barrels a day that the European Union, the United States and other nations opposing the war imported from Russia. Another issue: U.S. refineries were not designed to process the lighter domestically produced shale oil alone, which is why heavier crude was still being imported.
We need to have a serious — and realistic — conversation about the future of U.S. energy.
In the short term, President Biden has little choice but to turn to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela for more heavy crude oil. The United States stopped importing Venezuelan oil in 2019 in response to widespread human rights abuses under President Nicolás Maduro. In wartime, Mr. Biden must make hard choices. If he can get some political concessions from the regime, it could be worth lifting the ban on U.S. purchases from Venezuela and adding the 600,000 additional barrels per day it might be capable of producing to the global supply. Mr. Biden has already sent envoys to Venezuela, and Mr. Maduro has freed two American prisoners.
Higher gas prices typically cause Americans to drive and consume less. Mr. Biden should call on U.S. producers to step up. Analysts say there’s a potential for 760,000 more domestic barrels by the end of the year. Congress should also start considering gas vouchers for low-income families and waiving, at least temporarily, the Jones Act to make it easier to ship oil from Texas to Hawaii and the coasts. Every bit helps. If China buys some of the Russian oil, that would also free up supplies from elsewhere.
In the medium term, we need more U.S. production of oil and natural gas, changes to U.S. refineries so they can handle more shale oil, and an ongoing push to be more energy-efficient.
Mr. Biden is already outpacing former president Donald Trump in issuing drilling permits on federal land. It might be necessary to provide tax credits or other incentives to get refineries to upgrade and Americans to reduce energy consumption. Automakers are predicting an electric vehicle boom in the coming years, proving that even cars and trucks can change.
In the longer term, the United States must continue to push for greener energy. Democrats should make a deal with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III (D) to pass the climate change provisions of Build Back Better. It will take time, but continuing to move in the direction of a greener future is wise both for climate reasons and geopolitics.
The right path forward is to plan for a greener future down the road while beefing up domestic oil and natural gas production to deal with a crisis in the near term.
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