Wshington View: U.S. needs to look north for oil before it’s too late

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photoDon Brunell recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business.

Americans live in an idealistic world where, no matter what happens, we’ll still be able to go home at night and switch on the lights or pull into a filling station and gas up the family SUV.

Most folks — including many elected officials — don’t connect the dots. They somehow believe there are no consequences to killing a small biomass project in Vancouver, stopping a wind farm development because it spoils their view, taking a coal-fired plant off line, or opposing a natural gas or electric transmission line.

There’s a smug attitude that we’ve always had all of the energy we need, so we always will.

Well, it ain’t so!

The new president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Rostam Ghasemi, head of the Khatam al-Anbia military and industrial base, was appointed Iran’s oil minister by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That makes Ghasemi the new head of OPEC, which has a crucial role in setting world crude oil prices. Ghasemi also is subject to sanctions by the U.S., European Union and Australia, and his assets have been blacklisted by U.S. Treasury and other western powers.

OPEC is made up of a dozen oil-exporting nations, many of which aren’t friendly to America. Between Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, OPEC members collectively hold 79 percent of the world’s crude oil reserves and 44 percent of the world’s crude oil production, affording them considerable control over the global market.

Why should we care?

America still consumes nearly a quarter of the world’s oil, yet has barely more than 1 percent of the total proven oil reserves, so our nation is dependent upon others for oil, and whether we like it or not, we still use petroleum for fuel and millions of other products we use every day in our hospitals, school, factories and homes.

President Barack Obama and other elected officials need to get their heads out of the clouds, look around to see who our friends are and act accordingly.

Canada has been our best friend and ally for hundreds of years. We’ve fought wars together, and our citizens are joined at the hip. Our economies are interconnected, and we cooperate daily on any number of issues.

Canada is second to Saudi Arabia in proven oil reserves, but most of it is housed in the oil sands of northern Alberta. While some of the oil is mined, the majority of it will be extracted through pumping steam into deep wells and bringing the oil to the surface for refining.

The Canadians have extensive investments in environmental improvements, including water reclamation and conservation, and the Canadian government has adopted extensive pollution- and greenhouse gas-reduction programs.

Yet, many alternative-energy activists want to stop oil sand development. But the fact is, even with energy conservation, increasing reliance on electric cars and hybrids, and switching to natural gas-powered vehicles, America’s demand for oil will continue to grow, as will that of China and other developing nations.

We will continue to need oil for the foreseeable future. The only question is where we’ll get it.

Elected officials need to come to grips with the fact that by halting development of our proven oil reserves, delaying and killing energy projects and snubbing our nose at Canadian suppliers, we are placing our energy future and national security in the hands of OPEC and the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Ironically, by controlling the energy that fuels our nation’s economy, our enemies could bring the U.S. to its knees without firing a shot.

We had better get our heads out of the clouds and face reality before it’s too late.

Don Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business, Washington state’s chamber of commerce. Visit http://www.awb.org.