Energy security for the United States is a national security imperative. I was truly dismayed to hear about Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to terminate its search for crude oil in Alaska. According to the Interior Department, the Alaskan offshore development is projected to be home to more than 25 billion barrels of oil and nearly 120 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. While Shell faces many challenges procedurally, politically and otherwise, the effect of this recent decision will likely deter and dissuade further exploration in this region, casting a shadow that may forever lock away vast resources that would have substantially benefited national security and the U.S. economy.
With this decision, our dependence on foreign-sourced oil will increase, which runs counter to U.S. foreign policy objectives. It further exacerbates the issue of unfriendly and hostile regimes exerting undue influence on American policy, while they unfairly dictate the terms of global transactions. I have experienced firsthand – particularly in my command of the USS Cole when it was attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists – the devastating effects of reliance on imported oil when our forward-deployed assets are placed in harm’s way. It is vital that the U.S. foster responsible development of our natural resources – our national security depends on it.
As numerous experts and U.S. presidents have observed over the course of decades, there are significant national security risks associated with increased oil imports. If the U.S. remains preoccupied with regulating the access to sources of energy instead of developing known reserves for our national security, we will never project power effectively nor effectively influence and protect global trade and security.
Monday’s announcement from Shell cited a “challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment,” as a large reason in why it chose to forgo its Arctic development. This is disappointing because it signals that the United States is unwilling to be an international leader in energy security. While no method of energy development is without risk, unnecessarily imposing burdensome regulations makes it harder if not impossible for the U.S. to continue responsible oil and gas development. Rather than reaping the benefits of American-driven ingenuity, the U.S. appears intent on being its own worst enemy.
Utilizing oil and gas reserves from this region would not only confer national security benefits, it would also provide an economic boost to people in Alaska and across the United States. As Alaska already suffers from the effects of a lackluster economic recovery and from low oil prices, a massive capital injection like the one Shell proposed would have been welcomed with open arms. Greater domestic production would have had ripple effects throughout the economy, generating employment opportunities and helping to refill state and federal coffers. Such benefits should not be taken lightly or dismissed as politically inconvenient.
It is time that the U.S. act to forge a long-lasting and transformative energy destiny. Instead of blocking our own progress, we should be fostering the conditions for responsible oil and gas development. This approach offers a myriad economic and geopolitical benefits, while undercutting the undue influence of unfriendly regimes.
Given my firsthand experience with the deadly effects of importing oil from hostile regions of the globe, I couldn’t help but express disappointment in the circumstances that forced Shell to shut down its drilling operations, adversely impacting U.S. energy security and foreign policy. Now is the time to get out of our own way and let responsible oil and gas development create the conditions for continued economic and national security.
Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret.) was the Commanding Officer of the USS Cole when it came under a suicide terrorist attack by al Qaeda in the port of Aden, Yemen. Currently, Commander Lippold is the president of Lippold Strategies, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in executive leadership development, long-range strategic planning and crisis management.