Editorials, Opinion

Can the U.S. be energy independent?

On a press call with reporters Monday, Sen. Joe Manchin emphasized America’s need to be energy independent in the face of rising fuel costs.

Before we go any further, let’s establish what “energy independent” means for the purpose of this editorial. We’ll be using chemical engineer Robert Rapier’s standard: “Since we are net exporters of coal and natural gas, if we are net exporters of petroleum and petroleum products, then we are energy independent.”  In 2021, the U.S. exported slightly more oil than it imported.

Technically, then, we are energy independent. But we suspect when Manchin talks about being energy independent, he means having zero reliance on any foreign fossil fuels. So America just needs to stop exporting oil, gas and coal and keep it all for ourselves, right?

Wrong — particularly in the case of oil. Rapier said, “We import a lot of oil, refine it, and then export gasoline and diesel. We also export some oil that is a better fit for foreign refineries than for our own.”

Beyond that, the price of crude oil, which becomes gasoline and diesel, is dependent on the global market, regardless of whether or not we’re importing or exporting it. In an article for Forbes, President of Integrity Wealth Management Mike Patton explained what exactly is impacting our current gas prices.

Despite claims to the contrary, national politics have little impact on the price you see at the pump. That includes the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. Patton writes, “the existing Keystone pipeline has plenty of excess capacity to handle the increased volume of oil from Canada. In short, the effect of this action on rising gasoline prices is negligible.” COVID had a far greater impact (first to bring prices down, then to starting inching them back up) than the cancelled pipeline.

Then Vladimir Putin happened. The moment Russian troops began amassing on Ukraine’s border, prices started rising. Russia is the world’s second largest oil producer behind the U.S., and the oil industry feared supply disruption and raised prices accordingly, said Patton. (Russian oil and refined products only made up about 8% of the U.S.’s imports last year, according to the Wall Street Journal.) Because gas prices are based on global crude oil prices, the boycott of Russian oil will impact us here, regardless of whether we stop importing oil.

In short, the U.S. cannot avoid being part of the global fuel economy, at least as long as fossil fuels are involved.

The closest we can get to energy independence is to go as green as possible and switch over to renewables. 

West Virginia had been at the forefront of the energy economy for the last several centuries, and we can be again by fostering renewable energy technologies here.

Morgantown has the opportunity to join a program through the international Clean Energy Ministerial that would partner the city with one in Japan to work on developing hydrogen energy. If selected, Morgantown would receive a $20,000 grant every year for five years from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Right now, hydrogen energy production still requires natural gas, but the process is always being improved upon. Plus, Morgantown has access to experts at NETL and WVU, which makes us the perfect place to give hydrogen energy a try.