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Eight Presidents, One Pledge: To Reduce Dependence on Foreign Oil

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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At a time when partisanship seems to lead most every story in politics, it’s worth highlighting a sweeping bipartisan push that’s lasted four decades…

Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have all made the same pledge to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. And yet at the end of each administration so far, imports have been higher than before.

The pledge seems to have meant little–until now. By the time President Obama leaves office, oil imports will be lower and this trend will continue. And to be fair, it’s not all thanks to Obama.

Decreased dependence on foreign oil is the cumulative result of many events that set the stage for natural gas. Government policies since the 1970s funded advances in horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (already available since the 1930s and 1950s respectively). Later, high gas prices provided market incentives to locate new wells on private lands utilizing these technologies. Most recently, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 excluded hydraulic fracturing from underground injection regulations. It’s a rare instance in which markets, government, and technology worked together with a common goal. And succeeded.

As a result, the energy transition is now in play, but most people haven’t noticed yet. In fact, Dr. Michael Webber, Deputy Director of the Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin, predicts natural gas will overtake petroleum as the dominant energy source in the U.S. within 10-20 years. Perhaps when this occurs and we finally achieve that famous political pledge to “reduce dependence on foreign oil,” more Americans will recognize the significance of what’s taking place.


This post originally appeared at Scientific American’s ‘Plugged In

Sheril Kirshenbaum About the Author: Sheril Kirshenbaum is Director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin where she works to enhance public understanding of energy issues and improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Follow on Twitter @Sheril_.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Uncle.Al 4:55 pm 12/19/2013

    Drill ANWAR. Transport infrastructure is west next door at Prudhoe Bay, currently used at half-capacity and dropping. If anybody goes all Enviro-whiner on you, drop them off for a week wearing shorts and a tank top. Retrieve the exsanguinated corpse. ANWAR skies literally go dark with mosquitoes and black flies during the summer. Caribou greatly appreciate pipeline windbreaks during the winter.

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