“America is addicted to oil,” [Bumiller, E., and Nagourney, A. "Bush: 'America is addicted to oil'," The New York Times, 2-1-06.] President George W. Bush reported to the nation in his 2006 State of the Union address. “The easily accessible oil has already been sucked up out of the ground,” [Revkin, A.C., "Obama Restates Need to Seek More Oil Even as U.S. Uses Less," The New York Times, 5-27-10] said President Barack Obama, responding to the massive Gulf oil leak in May, 2010. North America’s near total dependence on oil to move its transportation sector threatens the mobility of people and goods and the very environment upon which life as we know it is entirely dependent.
But political leaders of both parties here and governments around the world are not shooting straight with the people about the risk of oil-dependence. That risk may affect virtually every integrated part of the world economic system. The impacts on civil society and national defense could be catastrophic. At its simplest, it is a grave risk to place sole dependence upon petroleum to move all our goods and our people. In a world where 95% of all products - with food production at the top of the list - use oil as a feedstock or where oil is essential to production, burning oil for transportation is profligate.
Despite recent increases in domestic oil production, the U.S. still imported half of the oil it burned in 2013. All oil - domestic or imported - is pegged at the world price. It is incumbent on our national leaders to openly address the risks of petroleum dependency.
Our leaders must educate and lead the public to address the risks of burning oil to our economic well-being and, more critically, right the intergenerational injustice of damaging our grandchildren's climate. Our leaders must offer meaningful solutions to avoid or mitigate the worst risks to the climate, society, national security, and the economy.
Clearly, the electrified Steel Interstate System offers the most cost-effective and quickest means to begin to transition our national transportation system from oil-dependent to virtually oil-free. With less than a 1% increase in electric generation, we can displace 12% of total U.S. oil consumption.[Drake, A., Multiple Birds – One Silver BB: A synergistic set of solutions to multiple issues focused on Electrified Railroads, The Oil Drum, 7-15-08.]
As President Obama pointed out, the remaining oil is harder and more expensive to extract, because what remains is in remote locations—like the blown out BP Deep Water Horizon well, a mile under the sea, or locked in dirty Canadian tar sands—or beneath unstable or unfriendly nations.
As the consequences of global climate change continue to materialize and accelerate, massive social disruption is likely to occur both in North America and across the globe. Without preparation, the world’s the largest consumer of petroleum, the U.S. military, [Karbuz, S., US military oil pains, Energy Bulletin, 2-17-07] could be affected. National defense could be compromised, which is why the U.S. Joint Forces Command is monitoring the issue.
To keep America on the move and our defenses at a high state of readiness, there is no better way to substitute for liquid petroleum than through electrification. Other commonly mentioned methods, such as shale oil, tar sands, and coal liquefaction face production bottlenecks, cost barriers, or environmental problems, or all three, which make them unsuitable candidates for widespread oil substitution.
To wean ourselves from imported oil, we need to begin, now, the critical national planning required to move goods and people in coming decades when oil becomes prohibitively expensive and ultimately unavailable as a transportation fuel. Substituting domestically produced electricity is the key. There are no technical barriers to railroad electrification. The technology is available today and widely used around the world. So the Steel Interstate System would readily move people and products, soldiers and material and keep the U.S., and it’s Canadian and Mexican neighbors, strong and secure by meeting both the food and resource needs of our peoples, and the training and deployment capabilities of our militaries.
For further information:
A Proposed National System of Interstate and Defense RAILROADS as an infrastructure project for the next fifty years, J. William Vargrass, for the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.