Energy security, defined as the capacity of a country to satisfy future domestic energy demand sufficiently, opportunely, sustainably, and at a suitable cost, is a crucial issue for any nation. With the exception of the twelve countries that make up OPEC, the organization controlling half of the world’s crude exports and in possession of three quarters of all oil reserves, the rest of the world’s nations produce far less oil than they consume and are therefore forced to import oil at the price dictated by the cartel. This has given rise to a situation of severe economic dependency. And even oil-producing countries will see their reserves run out by the end of the century.
Each year more than 30 billion barrels of oil are consumed throughout the world, which means -assuming a price per barrel of 100 dollars- a bill to be paid that totals more than 3 trillion dollars. Even for a small non-producing country consuming barely 500 million barrels per year, this amounts to over 50 billion dollars.
The United States, for instance, has become increasingly more dependent on crude imports, despite having a high production capacity. In fact, the U.S. currently imports 57 percent of the oil the country consumes, which attests to and explains the extreme political and economic dependence acquired with the handful of unstable countries that control oil today. Each year, the United States invests over 300 billion dollars in securing the transportation of imported crude oil.This entails an additional expense of $3.68 per gallon, more than one hundred percent of the present cost, and explains President Obama’s categorical statement to this effect: “Oil dependency is the most serious threat to our country.”
In short, energy diversification has become an important matter of foreign policy, and necessitates the quest for alternatives to fossil energy in order to dismantle more than a century of energy monopoly.
Among today’s renewable energies, biofuels are in the best position to replace oil in the short and medium term because they can utilize the same infrastructure. As a local renewable source of energy, bioethanol can help countries to drive down dependence on foreign oil and displace billions of barrels of imported crude, while helping to increase the ability of these nations to gain control over their economic future through an improved trade balance and the chance to invest this money in their own social and economic progress instead of financing totalitarian governments in the Middle East.
Fortunately, the global upsurge in the biofuel supply is helping to lower oil demand, thereby mitigating the devastating impact of escalating crude oil prices, which reached 140 dollars a barrel in 2008.
Furthermore, we must not lose sight of the fact that oil well exploration and exploitation are also the cause of serious environmental problems, including biodiversity loss, ecosystem degradation, contamination of seas and oceans, and greenhouse gas emissions. And there are even high indirect costs involved. According to the U.S. Accounting Office, over the last thirty years the U.S. government has allocated more than 130 billion dollars to subsidize oil exploration and production.
In conclusion, bioethanol stands out as the best short-term alternative to oil. The time will come for the electric or hydrogen car, although for that to happen we need to propitiate the right conditions to drive cleaner and inexhaustible forms of energy forward. Energy security is undoubtedly the major challenge for the 21st century, and history tells us that great progress is achieved through dialogue, cooperation, and political will. It is essential that our leaders secure a suitable regulatory framework and sufficient R&D investment, which ought to be the elements of the energy policy of any country, in order to foster the development of renewable energies.