Instability of Top U.S. Oil Supplier Reinforces Need for Open Fuel Standard

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nigeria, the fifth top oil supplier to the U.S. as of September 2011, is experiencing increasing political instability as Boko Haram, an Islamist terrorist group with alleged ties to Al Qaeda, continues attacks against police, military and government targets as well as civilians throughout the country.

The group recently claimed responsibility for a suicide bomb attack on Nigeria’s army headquarters in Kaduna, a northern city divided between Muslims and Christians.

Last month Boko Haram attacks produced more than 185 fatalities in the northern city of Kano.

Endemic poverty, corruption and repression have fueled religious conflict in a country whose energy resources are vital to the global economy.

The significance of the threat posed by Boko Haram and its interactions with international terrorist organizations prompted a congressional hearing as well as a report published last November by the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence.

Oil Pipeline Attacks

A second militant group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, has resumed attacks on oil infrastructure in protest against the central government’s neglect of the region’s economic development as well as environmental damage wreaked by international oil companies. MEND’s most recent attack targeted a major oil pipeline operated by Italian company ENI, which announced that it has lost 4,000 barrels of oil per day as a result.

At the height of its activities in 2006 MEND succeeded in cutting up to 25% of Nigerian oil production.

Energy Security

While the symptoms of these problems can be temporarily suppressed through law enforcement measures or military force, the long-term challenge is to address the endemic corruption, poverty and political disenfranchisement plaguing Nigeria as well as other vital oil exporters such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia. U.S. officials can press for political and economic reforms directly and through multilateral institutions such as the World Bank and IMF but ultimately these changes must come from the citizens of these countries themselves.

On the domestic front we can reduce our risk of exposure by reducing our reliance on the energy resources of such unstable states. This would create a greater buffer to protect against surges in oil prices caused by anticipated or actual disruptions to supply. A more substantial buffer between energy supply and demand would protect American consumers and provide policymakers with more time to analyze and respond effectively to complex national security events. This would reduce the risk of overreaction that analysts such as Jean Herskovits sagely warn could contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy further galvanizing the global Islamist militant movement against the West.

The Open Fuel Standard Act would create this buffer by ending the oil industry’s monopoly over the transportation fuels market.

Imagine if, instead of being forced to pay $3.50 or $4.00/gallon of gasoline caused by speculation arising from instability in the Middle East, Africa, or Latin America, you could fill up your vehicle with domestically produced methanol at an equivalent energy cost of $3.00/gallon or less.

The United States possesses abundant energy resources to achieve this and alternative fuels such as methanol are cost-competitive with gasoline today. The barriers are not technological or economic; they are political.

Removing these political barriers will require you to make your voice heard in Congress. Contact your elected representatives today and ask them to support H.R. 1687/S. 1603, the Open Fuel Standard Act of 2011.

It is up to us to challenge the oil industry’s increasingly precarious hold on our nation’s future.

Thomas J. Buonomo is an Energy Policy Advocate for the Open Fuel Standard Coalition. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and Middle East Studies from the U.S. Air Force Academy and has spent the past six years researching U.S. energy and national security policy.


Alex Kovnat,  February 22, 2012 at 6:42 AM  

Owing to the desirability of reducing importation of oil from politically unstable regions, I would like to offer the following suggestions:

1. If you read, you will find that unfortunately, numerous ethanol plants have been shut down. So I suggest that governments at all levels - federal, state, local - at least ASK, if not REQUIRE, that anybody driving a government motor pool vehicle that's rated as "FlexFuel", refuel said vehicle with E-15 or E-85 wherever such fuels are available.

2. Government agencies procuring motor vehicles for official use, should be encouraged if not required to purchase FlexFuel vehicles, electric cars like the Nissan Leaf, or hybrid-electric vehicles like the Toyota Prius, to reduce the need for oil importation.

3. Alternatively, governments at all levels should consider purchase of compressed natural gas-fueled vehicles like the CNG-Honda Civic.

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