By Janet Larsen
The enormously devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is just one reminder that stretching out an addiction to a polluting and planet-warming fossil fuel poses risks to our health, our environment, and our economy.
U.S. oil production peaked in 1970 at 9.6 million barrels per day. Since then production has dropped by almost half and now supplies less than 30 percent of domestic consumption. In 2009, the United States spent nearly $200 billion on oil imports to make up the difference.
With oil wells on land getting tapped out, U.S. oil production would have fallen off even more precipitously than it did if not for offshore oil. Offshore oil production now comprises about a third of the U.S. total. Yet remaining resources are limited and are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. As BP’s inability to staunch the Deepwater Horizon oil spill starkly illustrates, controlling extraction from almost a mile below the sea surface is incredibly difficult and dangerous.
The era of “easy” oil is over. As Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency, recommends for the world, “we should not cling to crude down to the last drop – we should leave oil before it leaves us.”
Offshore wind: A viable alternative to offshore oil drilling
Fortunately there are alternatives. Much of the U.S. oil consumption of nearly 20 million barrels a day goes to run vehicles, the same vehicles that get city commuters stuck in traffic for a cumulative 4.2 billion hours a year, costing society some $87 billion, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. To cut dependence on oil, transportation options can be expanded beyond single-passenger vehicles to bus rapid transit, light rail, high speed rail, and space for bicycles and pedestrians.