The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Looking Back 30 Years

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted July 15, 2009

Thirty years ago today, President Jimmy Carter asked Americans to come together to solve the energy crisis. At the time, global oil supplies had been reduced by political unrest in Iran, gasoline prices were up, and millions of Americans sat in gas lines which snaked through many major U.S. cities. In a televised speech on July 15, 1979, President Carter pressed for more conservation and oil development, saying, "This intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens our economic independence and the very security of our nation. The energy crisis is real. It is worldwide. It is a clear and present danger to our nation."

Much has changed since President Carter challenged America to reframe its energy policy. The United States has become more energy efficient, consuming less energy for each dollar of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). And tremendous strides have been made in protecting the environment.

But the nation is more reliant on imports than ever. At the time of President Carter's speech, America was importing 8.5 million barrels of oil per day, accounting for 49.6 percent of its daily consumption. Now (May 2009) the nation is importing 11.5 million barrels a day, which accounts for 61 percent of daily consumption. Why? Because for the past 30 years, our political leaders have resisted allowing America to drill for its own oil and natural gas.

The administration has not come to terms with the fact that this country--and indeed the rest of the world--will depend on oil and natural gas for many years to come. The U.S. Department of Energyprojects that oil and natural gas will account for more than 55 percent of the energy consumed in the United States in 2030.

Yet, the administration has delayed the process for the opening of offshore leases to drilling, put off research projects on oil shale, and prevented leaseholders from moving forward with exploration and production. Furthermore, until last fall Congress voted each and every year to keep many of America's best offshore oil and natural prospects off-limits. If more of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf had been opened to energy development 30 years ago, this nation would not be so concerned about oil imports today.

It is long-past time for the nation's leaders to face reality. The United States will need more energy in the future. Solar, wind, geothermal and other energy resources should be included in the country's overall energy mix, but for the next several years, they aren't going to replace oil and natural gas. They are unaffordable for most Americans, and they aren't able to meet the needs of the U.S. transportation system which requires a liquid fuel. President Carter acknowledged the need for oil and natural gas in 1979 when he announced his plan to stop "the endless roadblocks to completing key energy projects. We will protect our environment. But when this nation critically needs a refinery or a pipeline, we will build it."

Today, Congress and the administration should take a similar approach. They should repudiate the policy failings of the past and encourage the exploration for and production of America's oil and natural gas to keep America moving.