Mark Twain once quipped that the “trouble with the world is not that people know too little, but that they know so many things that ain't so.” Twain wasn’t talking about energy, which was hardly controversial in his era, but his timeless quote certainly resonates today. When I first decided to write this book, I jotted down a few ideas about oil that seemed off base but that appeared to have cachet among citizens and decisionmakers, and some academics as well. I then came up with many more and realized that we have much to learn about oil. This isn’t a surprise given the complexity of oil-related issues, but it is important because oil has global relevance as the most important global commodity, and is certainly vital to America’s economic and security position.
Indeed, the United States has a voracious oil appetite, accounting for about 22 percent of the world’s daily oil use, and it is the protector of the free flow of oil from the volatile Persian Gulf to the entire global economy. This makes it one of the most influential players in global oil politics and security—one whose behavior in the energy arena is felt worldwide.
In "Myths of the Oil Boom," I examine what the American oil boom (or era of dramatically heightened U.S. oil production) means for American and global security. And, in the process, I seek to challenge a range of myths and misconceptions about the role of oil in world politics and to offer a panoramic view of the global impact of the most politicized commodity in history.
The key argument of this book is that while many see the oil boom as a game-changer, and while it has enhanced oil security in some important ways, the boom can only deliver so much in terms of overall American and global oil security, partly because it is limited by a number of factors and because it is boosting oil production rather than decreasing oil consumption. There is a tendency to overestimate what it can deliver for American and global oil security and that is due in part to a number of misconceptions and myths that we need to understand better.
Each chapter discusses one or more myths or misconceptions of this kind. For example, many thinkers and leaders believe that the oil boom will significantly protect the United States from oil disruptions. That would be very important since most of America's recessions have been related to such disruptions. While there is some truth to this view, it is exaggerated because, as the evidence underscores, the United States and the world over the past four decades have become much better at deterring and containing oil disruptions and this evolution occurred before the oil boom. Therefore, the oil boom is just one more shock absorber against oil disruptions.
The ultimate takeaway of the book is that the American oil boom, while yielding some important benefits, is no replacement for sustainable energy practices. We cannot have long-term energy independence by just producing more oil. That can only come by using less fossil fuels, in part because producing more oil does not deal with some of the fundamental problems of our time which are tied to using oil including conflict, climate change, autocratic rule, energy coercion, and transnational terrorism. While pursuing the oil boom makes sense so long as the world is so dependent on oil, there is a danger that the oil boom will make us complacent about pursuing sustainable energy practices.
The conclusions of the book sketch important elements of a comprehensive energy policy, which can help us reduce American and global oil consumption. I call this approach, when combined with the American oil boom, the “synergistic strategy.” It does not reject the oil boom, but rather calls for a more robust complement to it in the form of approaches that can help wean us off of oil.
In addition to exploring the American oil boom, I hope that this book goes some way toward helping illuminate how oil shapes our lives and alters key contours of global security and politics.