By Caitlin Douglas
April’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a sobering reminder of the environmental and social implications of the USA’s dependence on oil. In 2009, Michael Bradshaw wrote an excellent and enlightening article in Geography Compass on the ‘Geopolitics of Global Energy Security’. The USA accounts for only 5% of the world’s population but consumes 25% of its oil. It is the third largest producer of oil (8%) but still imports nearly 60% of its petroleum needs. America’s domestic supply of oil peaked in the 1970s and has been declining ever since, making it ever more reliant on imported oil.
Interestingly the five major suppliers of crude oil and petroleum products to the USA are: Canada (18%), Mexico (11%), Saudi Arabia (11%), Venezuela (10%) and Nigeria (8%). Only a relatively small proportion of oil is sourced from the Persian Gulf. This balance may not, however, always be an option as the top five countries with proved oil reserves are in the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE).
Securing and maintaining a reliable oil supply has been a key element of American foreign policy for several decades. President George W. Bush recognized America’s addiction to oil, but saw the key issue as the USA’s dependence on ‘unstable parts of the world’ rather than its consumption of oil. In his inaugural address, President Obama also recognised the country’s dependence on these volatile areas but called for the use of renewable energy to ease the reliance on imported oil.
The question now is whether the devastation and resulting public outcry over the recent BP oil spill will provide the support and impetus to develop renewable forms of energy or will it merely lead to the exploration and exploitation of the untapped oil reserves in US friendly areas such as the Gulf of Guinea.
Read Michael Bradshaw’s ‘Geopolitics of Global Energy Security‘ in Geography Compass