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OPINION

Don't let anything block US energy independence

By JAMES “SPIDER” MARKS | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: April 9, 2021

Last week, the Ever Given was finally dislodged from the Suez Canal, freeing movement for more than 400 ships whose delay cost the global economy billions. Although the six-day blockage was considerably shorter than what many had feared, experts predict that it will still be months before residual disruptions abate. The immense scale of the damages caused by the interruption of traffic through a single international waterway demonstrates the fragility of global supply chains and the risks of overreliance on foreign-controlled strategic chokepoints. This does not portend the end of globalization, but the blockage has significant national security importance and should be the focus of U.S. policymakers interested in global energy trade. 
 
Around 8% of global liquefied natural gas trade and 10% of seaborne oil trade pass through the Suez Canal every day. With energy prices already elevated before the blockage, any delay lasting more than a week could have resulted in soaring costs and acute shortages. A similar disruption in the future, whether accidental or intentional, could precipitate international economic crises and leave millions out of power. Although the United States’ energy reserves and domestic production capabilities would have enabled it to endure a lengthier blockage, current efforts to forcibly shift the United States away from traditional fuel sources will leave it more exposed to future disruptions. The Ever Given fiasco demonstrates why such an approach is fundamentally irresponsible. 
 
With the good fortune of having avoided a far worse crisis, the Biden administration should reform its policies around the lessons of the Suez blockage. First, it should work to ensure America’s energy independence by bolstering domestic production and infrastructure development. The U.S. natural gas and oil industry, besides generating nearly 8% of the country’s GDP, ensures that Americans have unlimited access to cheap and reliable energy. Infrastructure projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline, Line 3 and Line 5 allow for the safe transportation of that energy across the country to fuel homes, industry and the military alike. Laws and executive orders to curtail energy production and transportation in pursuit of environmental targets tomorrow result in the erosion of military readiness today and domestic economic security. Moreover, it would force the United States to surrender its recently earned net energy exporter status and become dependent on oil and gas produced by competitors and imported though vulnerable global commons like the Suez Canal.
 
Second, it should encourage the development of energy export facilities on the Gulf Coast and elsewhere to ensure that the United States continues to receive the economic and diplomatic benefits of global energy trade. By helping allies and strategic partners to meet their energy needs, the U.S. can extend its economic and political influence while limiting that of China, Russia and Iran. Unless the United States develops its export capacity to the point of becoming a viable alternative, many European countries in particular will be forced to import Russian gas to the detriment of their security and ours — which is Russia’s plan exactly ... to wedge itself in the NATO alliance and European Union partnership. From an environmental and human rights perspective, expanding energy exports would also ensure that the world uses energy that is produced under American regulatory standards, which are significantly stricter than those of our competitors.
 
If the United States does not learn from the Suez blockage, it can be sure that its geopolitical adversaries will. Russia has already capitalized on the disruption to promote an alternative Northern Sea trade route running the entirety of its Arctic coast and to push Europe toward dependence on its sanctioned Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Additionally, China has been gradually increasing its naval presence in international waters just south of the Suez Canal. Failure to consider these developments and other pressing foreign policy issues in the design of domestic energy policy would inevitably leave the United States and its allies more susceptible to the influence of hostile regimes. Energy policy guides economic policy, which shapes national security priorities.
 
One day, natural gas and oil may be largely offset by renewable energy sources. However, that eventuality remains decades away, and until then domestic energy production will remain critical to the economic health and security of the United States. To the extent that the Suez blockage demonstrated the fragility of global trade networks, it also reaffirmed the importance of energy independence and exposed the fallacies implicit to environmental campaigns that would erode it. 
 
In its aftermath, the Biden administration should temper political impulses that have the potential to leave the United States at risk and endeavor to develop rather than constrain the industry most central to its economic, military and political strength.
 
James “Spider” Marks, a retired U.S. Army major general, is a strategic adviser to the GAIN Coalition — Grow America’s Infrastructure Now.