Energy Independence: An Impossible Campaign Promise


As the 2012 Presidential Election nears, energy and producing more of it have become hotly debated topics by both candidates, and each candidate has expressed desires to make America energy independent. Obama’s and Romney’s energy platforms revolve around increased extraction and use of domestic resources and stabilization of gas prices, and they hope to see a significant reduction if not complete halt on oil and gas imports in the future. With each candidate touting their abilities to achieve or at least move closer towards energy independence with effective energy policies, voters are deceived into thinking that energy independence is attainable and something America should strive for.

What is Energy Independence and why are we striving for it?

To achieve energy independence, America must be able to meet energy demands with resources recovered domestically; however, Americans are currently dependent on foreign sources for oil largely from the Middle East. Energy policies attempt to increase the United State’s energy security by moving the US towards energy independence by increasing drilling for oil and gas and providing economic incentives for the development of renewable energy technology.

The United States is aiming for energy independence because we are pressed into a vulnerable position in which we rely on the Middle East and to a lesser extent Venezuela to supply oil for our growing energy demands, and the US is forced to prioritize interests regarding these countries in trade relations and foreign policy. Reliance on foreign supply leaves the United States susceptible to embargos and other barriers to access caused by political conflicts, and the United States must continue investing in the peace and stability of these nations, which takes funds and effort away from use for problems in our own country. Thus, the administration’s drive for energy independence results from the desire to minimize interest and interference in those foreign countries, but do we have enough oil and other resources reserved to become energy independent?

Current United States Energy Production and Use

Currently, 80% of the energy the United States produces comes from domestic sources with large portions of energy coming from coal and nuclear power to provide electricity, and about 10% of energy comes from renewables. Over 90% of the transportation sector relies on liquid fuels, mostly petroleum, and much of this fuel comes from the Middle East. The US consumes 22% of the world’s available oil and produces only 9% of the world’s output.

The US has some of the greatest coal and natural gas supplies in the world and has numerous nuclear power plants, and achieving energy independence seems like an achievable objective. So achievable that both candidates use the potential to be energy independent to attract voters who believe that by doing so the US will avoid conflict with other countries and reduce gas prices. However, those sources are used primarily to generate electricity, and increasing drilling in the United States will not supply enough oil to power the transportation sector long term.

Is energy independence necessary or even possible?

While there are benefits to developing domestic energy infrastructure and resources—supporting our national economy and creating jobs—it is unlikely and absolutely not necessary to become energy independent within the next president’s term or in the near future. Candidates state that becoming energy independent will lower gas prices; however, global markets set the price of oil, and oil operations in the United States have done and will do little to cause gas prices to decrease. Essentially the government is helpless to lower gas prices. Currently, while foreign supplies are available and affordable it does not make sense economically to become energy independent, and attempts to go energy independent could even result in higher prices to pay for infrastructure development and operation costs.

While it is easy to get caught up in what each candidate promises to do for the country during the presidential debates, campaign speeches, and platforms, what Obama and Romney say must not be taken at face value. Voters have to realize that the programs and reforms they suggest may not be the best solution to current problems. Improving energy security and increasing supplies of energy resources domestically are objectives the United States should aim to achieve because of threats to energy security in the Middle East, declining supply, and ever-increasing demands for energy; however, energy independence is not possible for the United States and should not be a promise made by our country’s leaders.


  1. Sophie Vos

    Reliance on domestic versus foreign oil, oil prices, energy security, and clean/renewable energy are all major national issues that have unfortunately become ‘catch phrases’ thrown around by politicians to influence public opinion. The overuse, and often misuse, of these phrases has clouded the public’s ability to decode politician’s claims to become energy independent, lower gas prices, etc.

    Instead of focusing on replacing all imported oil with domestic oil (which would take many years to accomplish, if even possible), I believe that the focus should be on developing clean, sustainable sources of energy in the United States. Once oil runs out, it won’t matter whether it was domestic or foreign. The world will have to deviate from consuming oil eventually, and the US will be in a better position in the future if we focus today on developing a robust alternative energy system.


    Ii agree with Sophie; that the long term vision should be set on non-coal and petroleum energy in order to secure sustainable energy. Part of this plan should include the development of electric cars that won’t need fossil fuels to run.

    If the end goals of President are to avoid foreign conflicts in the Middle East and meet increasing demands for energy, then he or she should focus on funding for renewable energy programs and smart grid technology. Converting the American automobile fleet to renewable electric power is a challenge, but it is a way to get away from foreign fossil fuels.

  3. Lauren

    I enjoyed reading your blog about the ubiquitously mentioned “energy independence” from our political leaders. I concur with your statement that energy security is threatened by our reliance on foreign supply, this is not a problem that can be solved by the next president. Although I agree that our dependence on foreign oil can’t be alleviated in the next four years, I do believe that building infrastructure to support independence can be achieved. As the fossil fuels continue to diminish with our high levels of consumption, the necessity of domestic alternatives continually becomes accentuated. Politicians can’t allow us to conform to the highly volatile prices and political tensions over these diminishing resources in order to not weaken our country’s economic and security fortitude. Although I agree that global markets set the price of oil, natural gas and the plethora of opportunity that lies domestically in that is definitely an opportunity for the United States to provide energy, even in the interim, to negate our dependence as we could become net exporters of that commodity. While I agree this can’t happen overnight, setting up fueling stations and cars that work in accordance to this need to be an initiative now.

  4. Allison Donnelly

    I think you hit it on the head when you say it isn’t economically feasible to be energy independent.

    In 2011, the US was a net exporter of oil for the first time since 1949. Yet we’re still importing massive amounts of oil – why bother exporting the oil if we could use it ourselves to decrease our imports? Likewise, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline will bring tar sands crude to refineries in the Gulf Coast with the ultimate goal of exporting that oil where it can be sold at higher prices elsewhere. The irony of the pipeline is that though it’s being sold to the American public as a way of increasing energy security and decreasing gas prices, it will actually divert oil that currently goes to refineries in Illinois (for domestic consumption) to the Gulf Coast (for international consumption) – and in so doing, it will raise gas prices in the Midwest by up to 10 cents a gallon. But, economically speaking, exporting energy makes more sense.

    But speaking as an American citizen who has listened to politicians talk about supporting energy independence – this makes no sense at all.


    While I agree that complete energy independence is not likely and that politicians should temper their rhetoric, that doesn’t mean it can’t be a goal. Many politicians make claims that they will completely “fix” a problem. Voters shouldnt believe them and the politicians probably shouldnt say it, but what is important is their clear dedication to the problem. If Romney says he is going to make us energy independent in the next four years at least I know that energy independence is on the all important agenda that we have devoted so much class time to.

    It is also true that prices likel won’t go down if we produce all our own oil. The global market sets prices and even if we did produce all our oil we would likely set prices near global prices (if they were lower we would be losing money and if they were higher people would buy oil elsewhere), but having control over our oil is a huge part of the issue. If we control our oil and the supply of oil we can better predict what the future of our oil holds and not have to worry about the effects of a war torn region. Also, possibly even more importantly, WE wont (well we still would but it would be less) have troops on foreign soil for oil.


    While I definitely agree that both Obama and Romney are not accurately depicting the energy situation to voters, I think energy independence is possible in the U.S. We just have to alter the energy sources we use. We will likely never be energy independent if we continue to utilize gasoline for cars as the primary energy source. If we were to transition to electric cars that utilize natural gas, an abundant source in the U.S., then I think energy independence is much more likely. In addition, if public transportation became more of a reality in many cities, then that would also decrease the amount of oil that we have to purchase from countries in the Middle East and Venezuela.

    In addition, renewable energy needs to play a larger role, which will increase the availability of natural gas to be utilized in transportation. Many states have energy plans in place with renewable energy standards approaching 25-30% in a few states. The country as a whole, needs an established energy plan and a plan that encompasses renewable energy sources to a larger extent than currently. Then, energy independence may become a much more likely reality.

  7. Olivia Shepard

    I agree with you that in order to lessen the impact of US energy usage on the environment we have to educate Americans regarding the relative benefits of the different options (energy independence, renewable sources, energy recovery, etc.). Energy policy is often explained from a biased perspective due to agenda setting, thus Americans are in need of a clear source of explanation. You mentioned that we need to inform the public that energy independence is currently not possible. I definitely agree, and would suggest also highlighting that the US government has other motives for energy independence besides environmental ones. For example, energy independence is an important strategy for upping national security, as well as GDP. Additionally, while the U.S. may not be able to replace all the foreign oil we use with domestic oil, one thing Americans can do to help is to simply use less. Not only does this contribute towards energy independence, it also reduces our emissions. Emissions reduction can happen from either improved efficiency (if usage does not increase) or reducing energy use. The difficulty is getting American’s to change their ways for the good of the planet. In my opinion, simple “gamification” and smart metering can go a long way to incentivize reduced power intake.

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