U.S. Can’t Drill its Way to a Better Energy Future

During his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama stated, “nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.”

“With only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough,” he said. “This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy — a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper and full of new jobs.”

He outlined goals to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, including:

  • More offshore oil and gas exploration
  • Increased clean-energy development on public lands
  • Incentivizing manufacturers and building owners to save energy through efficiency
  • Extend clean energy tax credits and cut tax breaks for oil companies
  • Rebuild America’s infrastructure, including the electric grid

Also announced was a commitment from the Department of Defense—the world’s single largest consumer of energy—to clean energy.

A commitment to efficiency and advancing renewable energy are indeed promising, but any solution to our country’s energy problems—and economic problems, for that matter—that proposes we can drill our way out misses an incredible opportunity.

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts, domestic crude oil production is expected to jump more than 20 percent in the coming decade, from 5.5 million barrels per day in 2010 to 6.7 million in 2020 — a level not seen since 1994.

The U.S. has built its economy on cheap oil. Every day, moving people and goods burns 13 million barrels of oil—costing American drivers $2 billion directly and $4 billion in additional hidden costs. RMI analysis shows that in the transportation sector, fitter vehicles and smarter use can pump $3.8 trillion not spent on oil back into the U.S. economy. More

The roughly four cubic miles of fossil fuels we burn every year are no longer the only, best or even cheapest way to sustain and expand our economy—whether or not we count fossil fuels’ hidden costs. U.S. business can become more competitive, profitable and resilient by leading the transformation from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. This transition will build a stronger economy, a more secure nation and a healthier environment.