Opinion

Biden’s Elusive Plans for Oil and Gas Could Spell the End of U.S. Energy Security

By Guy Caruso
December 14, 2020 at 5:00 am ET

Over the past decade, Americans have reaped the benefits of robust shale energy development here at home. Those rewards have come in the form of affordable fuels, good-paying jobs, reduced emissions and energy security — an achievement not realized for the past 60 years. This remarkable “shale revolution” has even been good for alternative energy sources, bridging the gap to wind and solar fuels.

Those achievements may be threatened under the Biden-Harris administration.

On the campaign trail, President-elect Joe Biden often seemed to change his tune on the fossil fuels industry. When asked during a primary debate whether there would be “any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking” under his presidency, Biden said, “We would make sure it’s eliminated” — a comment his team later tried to walk back.

In a video that surfaced from last fall, Biden says, “I guarantee you, we’re going to end fossil fuel.” His team once again insisted that the then candidate meant to say he will oppose any new development on federal lands — a line Mr. Biden continued to toe through the general election.

While the president-elect’s comments, and later walk-backs, may be difficult to interpret, his proposals are not. Mr. Biden’s climate plan seeks to eliminate carbon-generated electricity by 2035 (fossil fuels account for 63 percent of power generation currently). That goal will require as much as $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, including subsidies for solar and wind, which now provide only about 9 percent of American’s energy needs. Biden needs to implement a more pragmatic approach to the transition away from fossil fuels. He should recognize the longer time element required.

Meanwhile, Biden has pledged to cut so-called subsidies for the oil and gas industry — a position he regularly doubled down on when correcting statements that went too far on the campaign trail. “I’d stop giving to the oil industry. I’d stop giving them federal subsidies,” he said in the Oct. 22 presidential debate.

The only problem is the “subsidies” the future president targets are actually standard tax deductions that are critical to the industry’s continued business operations. Eliminating those would create an unlevel playing field — one that would be tipped even further by true subsidies needed to prop up wind and solar capabilities.

No matter how his team tries to spin it, what Biden has proposed will hurt America’s oil and gas industry, which is one of our country’s chief growth sectors. Banning fracking on federal lands and waters, as Biden hinted at, would kill nearly 1 million jobs by 2022 and cause a loss of some $700 million in U.S. gross domestic product by 2030, according to an American Petroleum Institute study this fall. It would cause U.S. oil imports from overseas to increase by 2 million barrels per day.

Perhaps most concerning, Biden’s restrictions on shale energy development could write the end to America’s remarkable march toward improved energy security. Whether through outright bans or piecemeal legislation, Biden has signaled he plans to erect barriers on American  oil and gas development. That will discourage production and cause greater reliance on foreign suppliers, more volatility in consumer prices and less leverage for the United States to support our allies and isolate our enemies. He will find that leverage very useful in the difficult upcoming negotiations with Iran regarding the JCPOA agreement.

In his 2014 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama heralded natural gas as a “bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” That hasn’t changed. The president-elect would be wise to revisit the position he once championed and embrace the U.S. oil and gas industry as an ally, rather than the enemy. Otherwise, the United States could be on a course to revisit its days of energy insecurity.

 

Guy F. Caruso is a non-resident senior adviser in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; prior to joining CSIS, he served as administrator of the U.S. Energy Information Administration from July 2002 to September 2008.

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