While the domestic oil supply peaked in America in the 1970s, America has always been able to import oil from other countries subsequent to the OPEC embargo for the right price. Some nevertheless argue that given the considerable increase in debt America has experienced since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2007-8, that the value of the dollar will be threatened, perhaps to the point where it may no longer be accepted as the valuable international currency that it has been, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, for America to import oil from foreign sources. Our one and only response may be to change immediately our strategy on the development and use of our current and developing national energy sources.
In general, we had planned on a decline in coal plants, as they could be extremely difficult to retrofit to clean burning. Indeed, even new coal plants are not clean and no useful, universal strategy has evolved to deal with coal ash, which has been slowly destroying a sizable fraction of America’s environment. Some of the more modern coal plants could be made clean will all of the flu gases trapped and the coal ash processed into useful products, but in the long run this could prove more expensive than it is worth. Certainly many of the older plants will be converted over the next several years to burning natural gas primarily. In the long run much of the nation’s coal will increasingly be left in the ground.
If we are unable to continue to import a net seven billion gallons of foreign oil each day, we can’t make it up in the long run by shifting that burden to the domestic supply. Thus, we will have to make up the shortfall in other ways. Increasingly, autos and trucks will need to shift to natural gas as well as battery rechargeable electric power, but to this point neither infrastructure is in place. If we start having to use domestic supplies of oil only to generate gasoline, costs will be driven up considerably. Many autos and trucks will be parked as they will become too expensive to drive. The cost of natural gas, currently very cheap will also go up considerably as demand will also increase. Hydrogen, which is not currently economical as a fuel may become so, and some vehicles may be converted to burning either hydrogen or natural gas.
At the present time the generation of electricity from solar power is still in it’s infancy, but still most promising for the long term. Wind and geothermal are still very promising and useful, but not generated easily everywhere — certainly not as universal as solar, which some observers anticipate to double within the next 15 years. Such a rate of development of renewables is not currently on the horizon, although it could be done.
The Congress is meeting these energy independence challenges it thinks, but if supplies of international oil suddenly become unavailable at the level that could occur, the nation will have a sudden shock that could make the OPEC embargo of the mid-1970s look like a picnic in retrospect.
Most of the people in America would suddenly be frozen in place as supplies of gasoline would suddenly dry up. Commerce would effectively come to a halt unless most of the commercial trucks are retrofitted to burning natural gas and the option of burning a refill every few hundred miles becomes widely available. Just a few percent of the cars are electrics, and a hybrid may keep you on the road just a little longer than a gas guzzler without a battery.
While over the last 30-40 years we have made considerable progress in improving the use of energy sources through conservation, by expanding and improving the acquisition of solar energy and other renewable strategies, our goal should be to improve these strategies so that we can eventually replace fossil fuels as well as nuclear strategies. We are on our way but hardly on the pace necessary if sudden shocks occur in the international markets for fossil fuels, and in particular, for oil.