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Robert L. Sharp: Energy dependence truths

One frequently hears frenzied concern from the entertainment industry (i.e., politicians, academics and, oh, newspaper columnists) that we are "dependent on foreign oil, to the enrichment of our worst enemies."

This is misleading on several fronts.

First, it neglects to put dependence into the context of our overall energy requirements and what are their sources. The following are 2007 figures:

39.2 percent of total energy use in the U.S. is from petroleum, 70 percent of which goes to the transportation sector.

23.3 percent is from natural gas, a third of which each going to industrial, residential and commercial, and electric power uses. Electric power uses 40.6 percent of total energy, from various sources.

22.5 percent is from coal, 91 percent of which goes to generate electric power. U.S. recoverable reserves are estimated at 25 percent of total world reserves. However, environmental considerations are hot topics.

6.7 percent is from renewable energy (hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind, biomass).

8.3 percent is from nuclear power, all of which goes to generate 21 percent of our electric power. The U.S. has 104 operating reactors out of 443 in the world.

Next, in terms of being dependent, net imports for fossil fuel sources of energy are: petroleum, 58.2 percent; natural gas, 16.5 percent; and coal, 3 percent. There aren't statistics on what fuels are used to generate our electricity imports over the grid from Canada and Mexico.

Import of nuclear power is 0.0 percent, renewable and alternative fuels almost 0.0 percent (The U.S. imported about 6 percent of ethanol consumption in 2007).

U.S. government statistics point out the surprising fact that almost 50 percent of U.S. crude oil and petroleum products imports came from the Western Hemisphere (North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean including U.S. territories) during 2006.

We imported only 16 percent of our crude oil and petroleum products from the Persian Gulf countries of Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.

During 2007, our five biggest suppliers of crude oil and petroleum products were:

Canada 18.2 percent;

Mexico 11.4 percent;

Saudi Arabia 11.0 percent;

Venezuela 10.1 percent;

Nigeria 8.4 percent.

Back to being "dependent on foreign oil to the enrichment of our worst enemies," I don't see us at war with any of these countries. I think our "worst enemies" are using candles in damp caves.

Saudi Arabia may not govern in the manner of a New England town meeting or a Swiss canton, but it has supported our efforts in Iraq. In fact, Osama Bin Laden's core gripe with the U.S. has been western support of the Saudis' 13th century model of government.

As for Venezuela, I don't expect its Marines to come ashore anytime soon. Their faltering economy depends on selling black gold.

If we are looking for people we'd like to feel antsy about, oil imports from Russia are around 3 percent of our total, and China, a whopping 0.09 percent.

Per U.S. law, we can't do business with Iran at all, which is in a bit of an economic bind. It has oil, but limited refineries, so must import finished product.

Keep in mind every nation's petroleum is fairly useless without being refined. Saudi Arabia, for instance, has only about 12 percent of U.S. refining capacity. Venezuela has 7 percent.

In terms of "enrichment," U.S. oil companies are doing pretty well. That's the way capitalism works: you buy something, add value and sell on at a higher price. See Wal-Mart for a similar model.

"Drill, Baby, Drill!" Leaving aside the environmental discussion, how smart is it to use up our nonrenewable resources ahead of those belonging to other countries?

In short, we are only somewhat dependent to some degree on not necessarily hostile foreigners for our total energy needs, and those sources are dependent on us as a market to a high degree.

(Statistical sources: Energy Information Administration, U. S. Department of Energy)

Robert L. Sharp grew up in Linden and spent most of the following 30 years as an international banker in Asia including four years as a Naval officer in that part of the world.