US Energy Renaissance Brings Important Foreign Policy Choices

  • Date: 29/04/14
  • Roman Kilisek, Breaking Energy

Two timely research studies from think tanks inside the Beltway address energy security with particular focus on America’s new role in rearranging the established global energy order. This order is in flux precisely because of the renaissance in the American energy sector ignited by its shale (tight) oil and gas boom.

Over the last decade, US crude oil and natural gas production has risen significantly. According to EIA projections in its AEO2014 Reference case, US natural gas production will continue to grow, increasing by 56% between 2012 and 2040. Similar gains are projected for US oil production.

A new Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) study – titled “New Energy, New Geopolitics: Balancing Stability and Leverage”- examines how much the US shale revolution has already altered America’s geopolitical calculus and how all those increased energy supplies add to America’s ability to lead and exert political as well as economic leverage to advance particular foreign policy goals. According to CSIS, it comes down to assessing the potential strategic impact of shifts in the energy landscape on global trade and geostrategic relations. CSIS notes that to navigate the complexities of energy policy, which is a “mix of complex domestic and international factors,” pales in comparison to managing geopolitics, which is “even more complicated by the larger universe of energy- and non-energy-related elements that influence the relationships among countries.” Due to the fact that energy security is a matter of national security, with complex political, economic, and social implications, foreign policy requires, above all, a strategic approach. In this respect, CSIS suggests US policymakers choose between two paths for managing America’s new energy posture:

“The energy stability pathway suggests the United States’ energy advantage should be used to enhance energy security around the world, on the theory that more stable energy markets will foster strong economies and enhance geopolitical stability.”

The energy leverage pathway views the energy advantages presented by the U.S. oil and gas production as tools that can be employed in the service of broader geopolitical or economic objectives.”

Due to the general uncertainty surrounding energy developments, geopolitical forces, and national security interests it is unlikely – the CSIS study reasons – that the US will pursue either suggested option in its purest form. Nonetheless, CSIS advocates for a comprehensive policy approach, which leans more towards energy stability. Three interesting and sensible recommendations for policymakers reflect this favored approach:

1. Keep up continued US commitment to protect sea lines of communication (SLOCs) in order to reassure allies of both US willingness and capability, thereby maintaining “its role as lead provider of this global common good [for now], while working toward more collective approaches to the greatest possible extent over the longer term.”

2. Make the public appreciate – i.e. do not isolate the US under the false impression of ‘energy independence’ – that “continued reliance, both direct and indirect, on global energy markets is critical if efforts to deter threats to regional stability, or to respond to instability if necessary, are to be successful [in the future].”

3. Put the domestic energy bonanza to good use and “bolster foreign policy ties or geopolitical dynamics where energy has traditionally played a central role.”

Meanwhile, a second study titled “Fueling a New Order? The New Geopolitical and Security Consequences of Energy” and published by the ‘Project on International Order and Strategy’ at Brookings analyses the same phenomenon and declares the US “on track to become the dominant player in global energy markets.”

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