President Joe Biden just announced a ban on oil and gas imports from Russia. America imports less than 5 percent of its oil and gas from there, so the ban on Russian imports will affect us much less than our allies in Europe. The EU consumes about 540 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, more than 40 percent of which originates in Russia, according to Thomas Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research.
In his March 8 press conference announcing the sanctions, Biden pointed out that the U.S. produces more oil and gas than all of Europe and that America is a net exporter of energy. That became true in 2019, but on February 18, the Energy Information Administration forecast that America will once again become a net energy importer in 2022.
A recent poll by Morning Consult showed virtually unanimous support for increasing American oil and gas production. Support was marginally higher among Democrats (96 percent) than Republicans (92 percent), showing the bipartisan nature of the sentiment.
Biden insisted, “It is simply not true that my administration or policies are holding back domestic energy production.” However, Biden has called for a “whole of government approach” to cut carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. In January 2021, the administration froze auctions for new drilling rights on federal lands, halting at least six pending drilling projects. It took a judge’s order last June after lawsuits from energy-producing states to unblock the freezes. The Department of the Interior is still ignoring judge-imposed deadlines for restarting the auctions; it missed a court-ordered deadline as recently as February.
The administration admitted in a court filing that “work surrounding public-facing rules, grants, leases, [oil and gas] permits and other projects has been delayed or stopped altogether so that agencies can assess whether and how they can proceed” while it appeals a February 11 ruling by a Louisiana judge suspending the use of a carbon metric by federal agencies.
Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, an addition to the Keystone pipeline that is currently in use, and rejoined the Paris agreement, which promises more regulations. White House officials, along with anti-carbon groups, have pressured banks and asset managers to divest from fossil fuel projects, unsettling the investment climate for oil and gas production. The Environmental Protection Agency has introduced new regulations designed to erect further barriers. New rules against flaring excess methane, for example, increase the number of permits needed and the time before a well can become productive.
Europe’s businesses and consumers are learning a painful lesson about the costs of putting a green agenda ahead of other concerns. Europe’s moves away from both coal and nuclear meant an overreliance on renewables alone—which turned out to mean an overreliance on Russian natural gas to fill in the inevitable gaps in supply when wind and sun didn’t cooperate. They also meant skyrocketing prices for both electricity and gasoline for European consumers, something Americans are now experiencing as well.
Our situation is better than Europe’s because America has the potential of being self-sufficient in energy once again—if only the right policies can unlock our productivity instead of slowing and impeding it. The current energy situation is one more reason the U.S. should work even harder to make sure our energy production and distribution are as efficient as they can be. There is a lot we can do at home, without having to appeal to Saudi Arabia, Iran or Venezuela, where environmental protections are less stringent than here. That includes the use of “greener” energy transportation, such as transportation by barges on the inland waterways and promotion of more energy efficient engines and fuels. A domestic energy response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression that leads to energy independence and increased exports is better for our national security, better for consumers and businesses, and even better for the environment.
Wars and crises can bring moments of clarity. Among the questions posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is whether we will “push” or “pull” our way toward an energy transition. Will the transition to newer technologies come from positive market incentives to invest in and develop alternatives to fossil fuels beyond just solar and wind—or from policies designed to punish and restrict fossil fuel production before sustainable alternatives are in place?