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posted: 7/18/2011 3:00 AM

Why we're not close to an energy crisis

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Is energy independence a worthwhile goal? A lot of Washington politicians and "environmental experts" have loudly proclaimed that it is. But the belief in energy independence is based on two faulty premises. One is that it would reduce gasoline prices. It wouldn't, not if we continue to need more than 20.5 million barrels of oil a day. The second is that oil imports are rising. They are not.

By misperceiving energy security, this crowd has got it wrong. Americans are angry about high gasoline prices and unfair barriers to domestic energy production. But politicians who think that the American public believes oil imports are necessarily bad ought to rethink that assumption.

Despite all the hype about energy independence, the reality is we are part of a global economy, in which we export some things like corn and wheat and import others. Besides, the level of oil imports fell below 50 percent last year for the first time in more than a decade. A slow but steady decline in oil imports is due to the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles and, to a lesser extent, biofuels.

Additionally, U.S. energy security has been helped by a shift away from OPEC to a more diverse group of suppliers. Today we import oil from about 30 countries, not four or five as we did a few decades ago. But there's another reason our country is less vulnerable these days to an energy crisis: We are seeing an increase in domestic oil production that began in 2009 and extended into 2010, reversing years of falling production, chiefly because of new drilling techniques that have opened up large oil deposits in deepwater areas of the Gulf of Mexico and in hitherto untapped shale fields.

C. John Mann

Professor emeritus of geology

University of Illinois-Urbana