Letter to the Editor: Alternate energy will not make Middle East irrelevant

By Matthew Longacre

In an Oct. 31 column, several arguments were made as to how investing in alternative energy and extracting more oil from the U.S. would make the Middle East irrelevant.

The author of the said article fundamentally misunderstands the nature of energy markets, international politics and world instability. It is nearly impossible to sum up the many fallacies of this piece in 500 words, but I will focus on the most significant offenses.

First, the author fails to understand the nature of energy markets. He suggests that we simply need to “stop buying oil.” Oil operates on a world market where prices are set by manipulated supply in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Simply increasing U.S. oil drilling, which would only allay about 3 percent of our foreign energy needs, would do almost nothing to world oil demand and price.

The moment we cut off oil imports, our Strategic Petroleum Reserve would last about 60 days. Beyond that, including offshore oil, there are at least 23 billion barrels of oil under U.S. territory (that we know of).

Even if the U.S. could somehow get its hands on all of that oil in one fell swoop (which is impossible) and add to the 700 million barrels in the reserve, we could only sustain our current rate of consumption for about three years before running dry.

Additionally, to believe that alternative energy research will produce a meaningful alternative to oil within the next 50 years to such an extent that the U.S. no longer imports oil is a laughable statement.

At best, analysts simply hope to produce enough alternative energy to last the impending “energy slump” where traditional fossil fuels run out and new technology must be developed to extract heavy and shale oil.

Second, the author seems to suggest, by eliminating U.S. dependence on foreign oil, we will somehow prevent transnational terrorist organizations from receiving funding and causing harm abroad. What he fails to understand is that the biggest difficulty of developing such an organization is not finding funds (Qassam rockets, improvised explosive devices and AK rifles are cheap and readily available), but rather finding recruits.

Deliberately destroying an economy would create the type of instability that allows despotic organizations like Al-Shabbab to take control. A more appropriate response to transnational terrorism is a combination of counterinsurgency policy, economic diversification and empowering of civil society.

The author only seems to leave us with two policy options.

We either make a gradual transition over the course of the next century, or more off foreign oil to alternative energy and shale oil, with Middle East economies responding with various pricing strategies and an eventual transition to a new source of revenue.

Or we attempt to forcibly end our imports of oil, destroying the U.S. and world economy and killing millions in the ensuing economic crisis.

Neither will eliminate terrorist organizations — and neither will make the Middle East irrelevant.