World War Oil? The Need to Break Away from Fossil Fuel Dependency

For more than a week now, our TVs have been painted with the apocalyptic scenes of unfettered destruction in Ukraine where Russia has bombarded cities in their sickening invasion of the country. The sources of this unprecedented aggression include their Cold War ties in the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s desire to join NATO and the European Union (possibilities that make Putin feel threatened), and the Russian president’s insatiable desire for further power. However, there is another side to this war that people initially overlooked in the beginning, including myself. Ukraine just happens to be a massive repository for fossil fuels and other natural resources, so if Russia is able to manage a complete victory over the resistance, then Putin will gain access to them.

Just to cite a few, there are significant reserves of coal, iron ore, natural gas, manganese, salt, oil, graphite, sulfur, kaolin, titanium, nickel, magnesium, timber, and mercury (https://ukraineinvest.gov.ua/industries/mining/). The access to the oil, coal, and natural gas alone would whet the appetite of any nation that either desperately needed fossil fuels or sought to establish itself as a monopoly in which others depended. As of now, Russia supplies a lot of oil and natural gas to different European countries, one of them being Germany as recent activity led to the complete cancellation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that was meant to supply them with a majority of their natural gas. Although this action was meant to serve as a powerful sanction against Russia, Germany will unequivocally hurt from it as well.

Now that Russia has rapidly descended into economic calamity and further global isolation, the question is whether the United States will take steps to distance itself from the fossil fuel supply line it has with other countries and attempt to progress toward energy independence. Growing support from the public and Congress is pressuring the Biden Administration to ban oil and petroleum imports from Russia as a response to the assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Although only about 3% of our imports in these come from Russia, the West Coast heavily relies on them due to geography, transportation, and logistics. They use complex refineries there to convert them into other useful products like gas, diesel, and jet fuel (https://www.afpm.org/newsroom/blog/oil-and-petroleum-imports-russia-explained).

Gas prices are soaring across the United States and the world at large, but as global tensions and markets remain unstable, these are expected to worsen. Thus, the U.S. finds itself in murky waters, ambivalent to the idea of cutting off those imports and adding the risk of worsening prices. For the past few decades, this has arguably been one of our greatest fallacies, but it’s certainly one that can be changed. There’s no excuse for a global superpower like us to be so reliant on other, and sometimes perfidious, nations for fossil fuel imports.

An outline of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines from Russia to Germany. The latter has already stopped planned operations of Nord Stream 2 to sanction Russia for their invasion of Ukraine.

In 2020, the top five sources of crude oil imports by share of total crude oil imports were as follows: 1) Canada-61%, 2) Mexico-11%, 3) Saudi Arabia-8%, 4) Colombia-4%, and 5) Iraq-3% (https://eia.gov/energyexplained/oil-and-petroleum-products/imports-and-exports.php). Certainly, Canada is a trustworthy ally, but a lot of the pipelines that have been constructed to transport oil from there to the United States pose dangerous risks to the environment and indigenous communities. For example, the Keystone XL Pipeline was cancelled by the Biden Administration after assessing the substantial negative externalities that could have taken place from its operation. Another contentious one is the Line 5 Pipeline set to be built by Enbridge and designed to carry tar sands oil from Western to Eastern Canada through the Great Lakes states.

The U.S. portion of the pipeline network owned by Enbridge, its joint ventures, and subsidiaries experienced 307 major liquid hazardous occurrences from 2002 to August 2018, an average of one spill per 20 days (https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/TarSandsPipelineSpillReport.pdf). With the dangers that coincide with these pipelines toward our water, food, air, and public health, we must finally realize that our nonchalant attitudes toward fossil fuels aren’t going to make a difference. No matter how much oil we refine, how much natural gas we use to power our homes, how much coal we dig for, or how much of these materials we import from other nations, the end result will always be the same. Their obsolescence from both practicality and economic implementation is already unfolding before our eyes, increasing at greater speed within each passing year.

If we don’t work towards a sustainable future that consists of complete renewable energy sources, then our efforts to mitigate the climate crisis, avert more oil wars, and preserve public health will become futile. And on a tragically ironic note, fossil fuels will run out on us when it’s too late to do so. Thankfully, the Biden Administration has shown enthusiasm in its policies to improve our climate situation and pave a better path toward energy independence. Upon entering office, he took significant action to rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, cancelled the Keystone XL Pipeline, restored protections for Bears Ears, announced a plan to cut 50% of our emissions in half by 2030, introduced and passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, introduced the Build Back Better Act, and has completed several others in between.

In addition, larger investments in electric vehicles and their chargers, wind turbines, solar panels, and stronger emissions safeguards are signs that the U.S. is slowly awakening to the reality that we have made for ourselves. There’s still a lot more that needs to be done, though. The single most impactful objective that can be completed now is to pass the Build Back Better Act, an overlapping package of reforms that encompass several facets of our daily life in the U.S. It will bolster our climate solutions by 1) delivering consumer rebates/tax credits to households shifting to cleaner energy, 2) ensuring that clean energy technology will be built in the U.S. with American made materials and create hundreds of thousands of jobs, 3) promoting environmental justice by investing in projects throughout the country and delivering 40% of benefits to disadvantaged communities, and 4) building resilience and natural solutions to climate change through investments in coastal restoration, forest management, and soil conservation (https://www.whitehouse.gov/build-back-better).

The passage of this prodigious legislation alone will be the catalyst for energy independence and meeting scientific benchmarks to curbing the climate crisis. A report published by the Princeton University REPEAT Project posited that the Build Back Better Bill will most likely help the U.S. reach the IPCC goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. Without it, we are expected to fall short of the deadline that could tip the scales from climate emergency to unabated catastrophe. If warming reaches or surpasses a global average of 1.5 degrees Celsius, then there’s a strong chance of a climate positive feedback loop where further warming can’t be stopped by any means.

Failure of passage would mean that the U.S. would fall about 1.3 billion metric tons short of reducing greenhouse gases in half by 2030. Source: Visualizing the climate stakes of Build Back Better’s downfall (axios.com)

These effective solutions will terminate our endless need for fossil fuels from foreign sources by supplanting them with sustainable alternatives that will never run out. That is the key to avoid any more oil wars, trade disputes, and logistical problems in obtaining them just so that we could endanger ourselves even more. To make sure that we succeed in getting there, everyone must be proactive in politics and environmentalism, so that means pressuring Congress and the White House to do what’s right. Writing letters, making phone calls, attending rallies, conducting research, donating to greener causes, and joining organizations dedicated to solving climate change are some of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposal besides voting. If we all fight for our right to have a livable planet, then there will no longer be any oil wars.

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Alan Bailey

I’m a graduate from LaGrange College with a B.S. in Biology, striving to be a conservationist and to help our planet.