Fossil Fuel Use in the United States


In 2001, the world's industries, economies and cars all relentlessly move forward based on exhaustible fossil fuels. The global market for fossil fuels is volatile at best; nonetheless, 90 percent of the world's commercial energy comes from fossil fuels -- 40 percent oil, 26 percent coal, and 24 percent natural gas, according to the World Resources Institute. Companies and entire industries have a heavy stake in the current system. The top bracket in the 2000 Fortune 500 reads like a "who's who" in fossil fuels. ExxonMobil landed the top spot with revenues of $120 billion, swapping places with General Motors who fell to number three just ahead of Ford Motor Company at four. Enron, a Houston-based energy corporation and a major Bush contributor, jumped to number seven.

Oil reigns supreme in the United States, topping the more expensive natural gas and the established coal industry. A country such as the United States, which sits on only 3 percent of the world's known oil supplies, inevitably depends on external sources. In the United States, the gap between domestic oil supply and demand continues to widen. Demand is estimated to be growing at 2 percent per year, and the United States now imports 57 percent of its oil -- up from 35 percent at the height of the energy crisis in 1975. Thus, it is imperative to consider which is more perilous: dependence on foreign oil, or dependence on oil in general. In control of so little oil, Americans may need to look beyond hasty decisions to simply increase our oil supplies.

Drill, Drill, Drill

Roughly the size of South Carolina, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (A.N.W.R.) is home to wolves, polar bears, caribou and a throng of migratory birds that flock to the refuge from nearly every state in the nation. The native Gwich'in people who live there call it "the sacred place where life begins." For many, the oil underneath the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain is just as compelling as the natural beauty above the surface. George W. Bush made drilling in the A.N.W.R. a campaign pledge, and he has the support of the conservative Alaska congressional delegation and many Republicans in Congress. Yet a post-election bipartisan poll showed 67 percent of Americans want the A.N.W.R. permanently protected. Alaskans, however, depend on oil revenues from approximately 80 percent of their state budget and pay no income or sales taxes. The oil industry claims it can drill in an environmentally responsible manner, and many politicans concur. "In the case of A.N.W.R., all I have to say is that we believe it could be developed without environmental or social damage," Dick Oliver of British Petroleum told an Anchorage, Alaska, group in September 2000. Why are the stakes so high? The U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.S.) estimates that between 3 billion and 12 billion barrels of oil could be tapped in the A.N.W.R. Proponents say it would ease our dependence on foreign oil, but others say the amount -- as little as a six-month supply at the current consumption rate of 18 million barrels a day -- is negligible and would not affect supplies for 10 years. With Bush's presidential authority and the power of the Alaska delegation, the push to drill in the refuge is no idle threat. The government recently fired a U.S.G.S. mapping specialist after he posted on the Internet a map of caribou calving grounds in the A.N.W.R. With red flags flying, the Bush administration has at least verbally backed off the Arctic plan. In its place is talk of exploring for energy on public lands -- including protected areas and national monuments -- and offshore in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico. The latter could pit Bush against his brother, Jeb, Florida's Governor, outspoken critic of drilling there, and up for reelection in November.

Following the Money Trail...
If campaign contributions curry favor, Bush's persistence on Arctic and other drilling is merely payback. Oil and gas companies emptied their deep pockets for Bush, donating $1,815,666 to his campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. These industries are no strangers to generous giving, having doled out $100 million to parties and candidates since 1991. Indeed, buried in Bush's proposed budget which he submitted to Congress in April are revenues from drilling in the A.N.W.R. Americans are beginning to recognize this; a recent Washington Post/ ABC News poll found that 61 percent of Americans think Bush cares more about the interests of large corporations than ordinary people.


KEY LINKS:

Learn more about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from the Alaska Wilderness League.

See what the U.S. Geological Survey has to say about the A.N.W.R.

The American Council for an Energy- Efficient Economy is a great resource for energy-related information and links.

Another place to seek energy information is the Rocky Mountain Institute.

The energy library at Resources for the Future has project summaries, issue briefs, articles, books and discussion papers on energy-related issues.

See what the Coalition for Affordable and Reliable Energy -- a coaltion of industry groups -- has to say.

Keep tabs on your congressional representatives and the administration with the League of Conservation Voters Scorecards.

Find out who fills politicians' coffers through the Center for Responsive Politics.


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