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How the energy leasing moratorium makes America less secure

Oil drilling on federal land. [U.S. Department of Agriculture/Released]
September 08, 2021

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Energy is a critical enabler of all forms of economic activity and quality of life. It is also a crucial element of national power.

Energy sufficiency and independence from foreign influences make us stronger as a nation.  Conversely, depending upon other entities such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) makes the United States vulnerable to coercion, weakened military capability, and strategic disadvantage, particularly in the volatile and unpredictable Middle East.

These are lessons that the Biden Administration would do well to learn by as they chart America’s energy policy for the next few years. To meet increasing energy demand as the economy recovers from the pandemic, the White House has called on OPEC to increase oil production overseas while maintaining an indefinite moratorium on granting new energy leases on federal lands.

Moreover, House Natural Resources Democrats are proposing similar policies in the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation that will lower domestic production by levying punitive measures against U.S. natural gas and oil industry, like disincentivizing federal lease bidding. These policies are imprudent and dangerous, as we should instead be taking steps to increase energy production domestically to meet demand. 

Let us look at the OPEC factor first. OPEC exercises significant influence over the global oil market, but its member’s interests are often at odds with ours. Naïve pleas to a hopefully benevolent OPEC tie our national energy policy to a volatile region led by rulers who do not have our best interests at heart.

OPEC ties with American adversaries are well known. OPEC and Russia are colluding on production and the oil cartel’s relationship with China is improving and formalizing. It is also worth noting that Iran, which is an OPEC member nation, is of particular concern as they sit astride the Straits of Hormuz which is the most notable oil distribution choke point in the region. This turn towards foreign producers and away from American producers is politically motivated, costly, and geopolitically risky. 

This willing dependence upon OPEC as a primary U.S. energy source combined with the Biden Administration’s and House Democrats’ significant curtailment of domestic energy production further exacerbates our foreign energy dependence and will rapidly erode U.S. energy security. Understandably, the leasing moratorium has received bipartisan criticism. But Democrats’ extremely partisan reconciliation package will likely remain tone-deaf to opposition in both chambers unless moderates see the light.  

While leasing on federal land has helped sustain the United States’ demand for oil, natural gas, and other petroleum products; this Administration foolishly tightens its chokehold on domestic energy production even further with its leasing moratorium on Federal lands. In fact, the U.S. has fallen so far behind, it is no longer the world’s chief energy exporter. Constraints upon ecologically responsible domestic energy production as well as imposing huge costs on production and limiting domestic oil distribution is dangerous and presents negative consequences.  

Such consequences include a potential negative impact upon military training and overall readiness to deploy. These are not unlike the impacts of the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo which literally shut down most U.S. military training during a perilous time on the world stage. It is also hurting everyday Americans by making them pay more at the pump. The national average price of gasoline stands near a seven-year high at $3.18 a gallon, up from $2.18 a year ago.  

President Biden and several House Democrats continue to push the U.S. further into a dangerous energy deficit, while encouraging our adversaries to acquire more power and control over global energy markets. In a time of national economic turmoil, ongoing recovery from a global pandemic, and loss of international prestige and leverage as a result of the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, all Americans should agree that a robust, cost-effective domestic energy infrastructure is essential to our national security. If this Administration is truly serious about reducing energy prices to encourage the ongoing global recovery and to stabilize America’s energy markets, they should turn away from OPEC and encourage domestic producers by reversing this drilling moratorium immediately.

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Major General Bob Dees, U.S. Army, Retired, has an extensive background in national security, energy policy, and Middle Eastern affairs, as well as personally experiencing the military readiness impacts imposed by foreign energy dependence.