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The Socio-Political Implications of Energy Independence

Article by Breeann MacDonald

Key Problems

Developing energy production technology that is not reliant on oil will inevitably have effects on the world’s economy and political structure. The U.S. has a responsibility to evaluate the potential collateral damage, economic and political, that will result from establishing energy independence through butanol production. In order to conduct this research ethically, we have investigated the potential ramifications of the success of this project on other countries, specifically Saudi Arabia.

Case Study

To analyze the possible effects of the U.S. becoming energy independent, we performed a case study on one of the largest exporters of oil, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia’s income is heavily reliant on its oil exports; crude petroleum alone makes up 76% of Saudi Arabian exports and half of its GDP. The U.S. is one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest customers, importing 1.7 mbd of its total 10 mbd of oil needed from Saudi Arabia (Morse, 21).

Case Analysis

The USA's consumption of Saudi Arabian oil equates to 50.7 billion dollars in oil profits, meaning that the Saudi Arabian economy would suffer dramatically if the U.S. were to become energy independent (United States Trade). Saudi Arabia would have to rely on their petrochemical factories to make up for the deficit in their income, or find another import to sustain the budget. Additionally, the Saudi Arabian economy would not be the only country to suffer. Because Saudi Arabia’s budget relies on its oil exports, it may raise oil prices significantly if the U.S. were to stop investing in its oil industrusty. This would have disastrous consequences for other countries still reliant on oil for energy. The struggle for energy dominance may be increased if oil consumption lowers, which could result in economic sanctions or military conflict from a number of countries. The U.S. should be prepared for an international conflict if one should arise.

Potential Solutions for the Future

The oil industry seems to be the lynchpin in the U.S.’s international diplomacy. The profit of the oil trade has been one of the central motives in the U.S.’s cooperation with Saudi Arabia, as well as many other countries, such as Russia. The disintegration of this motive would require a reformation of the U.S.’s foreign policy. The tension between oil-producing countries will grow pronounced if the United States, the biggest international consumer of oil, no longer purchases oil. One advantage to energy independence is that it could be used to diffuse international conflicts concerning oil dominance. If the U.S. were to extend butanol energy technology to oil-dependent countries, this could help sustain their economies and minimize the competition for energy dominance. The difficulty in this strategy is which countries to give the technology to and which countries to sell the butanol to. There is no easy answer to this question, but it should be on the forefront of our nation’s agenda should this technology become prominent.

Potential Solutions for the Present

It will take time for butanol to become a dominant source of energy, but this could be beneficial in several ways. The gradual integration of butanol as an energy source will allow time for technology to be developed that accommodates this new fuel source, which will create new jobs, and oil-dependent nations will have a transition period for their economies, which could help avoid international conflicts. While the development of butanol technology is in process, the U.S. government will have the opportunity to devise a strategy for international affairs. Our case study has identified some issues that should be considered during this deliberation process.