American Fossil Fuels: The New Alternative Energy Source

The explosion of the Gulf oil platform this past week is a useful crisis for those advocates who hope to further restrict and prevent the extraction of fossil fuels in the United States. The recent coal mining accident in Virginia is another opportunity to shut down vital energy extraction activities in the United States. Fossil fuel extraction in the United States remains a vital and most useful opportunity for solving a wide range of human problems around the world for a number of reasons:

1. The U.S. has an abundance of fossil fuels. Most Americans are surprised to find out that the two largest suppliers of oil to the United States are Canada and Mexico. Each nation draws billions of dollars in economic activity from the United States to provide these vast supplies. Is it not logical to conclude that the United States, lodged between these two massive suppliers, has resources of its own that remain untapped? Of the three major fossil fuels, the United States is in the top ten of two of the fossil fuels' proven reserves globally. The U.S. has the largest proven reserves of coal and the fifth-largest proven reserves of natural gas. At current prices, oil can also be a major source using shale extraction techniques and expanding the available regions of exploration in the coastal waters of the United States. The rabid advocacy of environmental groups creates an unstable environment for oil exploration here since companies have little idea whether their finds will be shut down or regulated out of existence by the latest scandal. This hostile economic environment has damaged our national energy security.

2. Environmental jingoism increases global pollution. The American obsession with stopping energy production has reduced jobs in this industry and produced cleaner air and water in the United States. But if pollution is indeed a global phenomenon, then the energy regulations of America may have actually increased global pollution. As energy consumption has continued to increase dramatically in the U.S. and worldwide, energy production has moved from the overregulated United States into locations with vastly inferior environmental regulations. While Americans obsess about the latest spill in the gulf, Nigeria announces casually the 14,000 tons of oil lost in its ecosystems this past year due to accidents and sabotage. That number has increased dramatically in the last few years, and there is little indication that any sort of public outcry will reduce or even modify energy extraction in a major producer such as the country of Nigeria. Similar observations can be made about dozens of other oil-producing states, including Russia and Mexico. Moreover, the shift from domestic production increases the risk of oil spills related to the traffic of tankers that must transport these vast amounts of oil back to the United States. The spills and the ships themselves contribute greatly to global pollution. 

3. Foreign oil trade funds dangerous anti-American activities that increase costs for everyone and result in catastrophic human harms. For the past thirty years, the oil trade has transferred approximately $1 trillion a year from the U.S., Europe, and Japan to some of the most dangerous governments in the world. Among the top ten nations in proven reserves are Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Venezuela, Russia, Libya, and Nigeria. Only Canada stands as a solitary island of political docility in this list. It is difficult to calculate the immense costs associated with funding the radical anti-American and anti-human agendas of these oil super-states. The genocides of Sudan are funded by oil sold to China. Even higher-priced crude extracted in the United States would reduce our costs in counteracting these states, who take their oil-funded largess and make extravagant weapons purchases, WMD programs, nuclear weapons, genocidal militias, and terrorist training facilities. The oil trade represents the largest transfer of wealth from rich to poor societies in human history. Despite that egalitarian premise, it is difficult to see anything ideal about the social ramifications of the oil trade. Both the giver and the receivers of this cash have been damaged by the transactions. 

For those looking for a cheap alternative to our current fossil fuel addiction, you may do well to look in your own backyard. America's fossil fuels may be the best way to restore economic vigor, fight the war on terrorism, and protect the global environment. The proud displays of jingoistic environmental nativism have painted our nation into an ugly corner. Kermit the frog was right -- it's not easy being green. 

Ben Voth is an associate professor of communication and director of speech and debate programs at Southern Methodist University.