Dependent on foreign oil

September 04, 1997|By Miami Herald, Aug. 25.

THE UNITED STATES is consuming more imported oil than ever, and that's not good news even though it's partly a reflection of the nation's healthy economy. Half of all U.S. oil consumption is now provided by foreign producers.

In such a key area as fuel, for transportation and other needs, the United States should never put itself in the vulnerable position of depending on a cheap supply from foreign sources. ** Nothing is endless, or forever cheap.

U.S. consumers are using more gas in part because they are flying more, driving more and buying more gas-hungry vehicles. It serves neither the U.S. economy nor the environment to revert to the bad old oil-wasting days that preceded the first oil crisis in 1973. Though the major foreign supplier to U.S. consumers is Venezuela, a fairly stable country, much of our imported oil still comes from the Mideast. There, stability is subject to instant reversal.

Yet U.S. policy gradually has shifted toward importing more oil to spare dwindling domestic resources and to keep gas-pump prices low.

Strategic reserve

At the same time, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve -- established after the first oil crisis as protection against future shortages -- is also shrinking. In recent years, Congress and the White House have sold some of the reserve to reduce the federal deficit. Under the recent federal budget agreement, however, no more reserve oil will be put up for sale. That's important. Right now, the reserve -- at 566 million barrels -- equals 67 days of average U.S. consumption. However, the Department of Transportation estimates that this will drop to 46 days by 2002.

One cause of higher consumption, which pushes up the need to import yet more, is the lower mileage rates of the now-popular sport-utility vehicle and its cousins, the pickup truck and minivan. While U.S. cars manufactured in the 1990s still average 25 miles to the gallon, sportier vehicles average only about 20 mpg. When mileage standards first went into effect, trucks and vans were such a small share of the market that they were exempted from the tougher requirements. Automakers' pressure on Congress kept them exempted as their popularity grew. Now it's time to impose stricter mileage rules.

Promoting fuel efficiency, alternative energy sources and the use of mass transit when oil is flowing freely and cheaply is a hard sell, but a wise course. U.S. oil supplies are dwindling. International politics forever will remain fluid. It's inevitable that there will come a time when the ever-expanding highways built to suit ever-larger vehicles will not look so inviting.

Pub Date: 9/04/97

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