StarTelegram.com – Energy independence is the best response to Syria crisis

st_nameplate_glass_09By Chris Faulkner

Special to the Star-Telegram

When an American missile strike in Syria seemed inevitable, oil futures shot up to a two-year high. Just days later, as U.S. officials began considering a diplomatic response, prices fell.

Many analysts have blamed these fluctuations on investor overreaction — Syria provides less than 0.1 percent of the world’s oil. But such assessments are dangerously naïve.

Any intervention in Syria would have impacted America’s access to oil and no one can safely assume there won’t be another Middle East crisis on the horizon.

That’s why the United States must reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Syria might not be a major oil producer or exporter, but one of President Bashar Assad’s chief supporters, Iran, holds the world’s fourth-largest proven conventional oil reserves.

More than that, Iran controls the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping lane that’s essential to the transport of roughly 35 percent of all seaborne oil.

There’s no telling what an Iranian response to a U.S. attack on Syria might look like, but if the mullahs even hint at shutting down the Strait, oil prices could jump dramatically.

The ripple effects of a U.S. military action wouldn’t stop there. A strike against Assad’s regime would inflame relations with other oil-rich nations.

The conflict has already worsened sectarian tensions in Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer of crude oil.

Even defusing the Syrian crisis won’t end the civil war there, nor diminish the prospect of future strife, rebellions, or war. Indeed, the Syrian civil war has stoked anew the centuries-old enmity between Islamic sects that threatens to engulf the entire region — a region that holds more than half of the world’s proven conventional oil reserves.

The situation in Syria has made clear why it’s so important for the United States to make certain our energy interests aren’t tied to the volatile politics of the Middle East.

In practice, this means embracing technologies like hydraulic fracturing, horizontal drilling and projects like the Keystone XL pipeline. These represent historic opportunities for America to gain greater control over our own energy security.

In the case of Keystone XL, a proposed pipeline that would deliver crude from western Canada’s vast oil sands to America’s Gulf Coast, the Obama Administration could dramatically increase the amount of oil we receive from our neighbor to the north.

The U.S. Department of Energy has estimated that, once completed, the pipeline would deliver as much as 830,000 barrels of oil a day, or roughly half of what we currently import from the Middle East.

The next stage of the project has been sitting in political limbo for too long, thanks to pressure from environmental groups.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has paved the way for America to become the world’s leading producer of energy. The advanced techniques for accessing oil and natural gas trapped in shale and other “tight rock” formations have led to a 61 percent drop in natural gas costs in recent years.

This domestic energy boom has, in turn, raised the average household income by more than $1,200 according to a new report from IHS CERA, a consulting firm.

Like Keystone, fracking has met fierce resistance from green advocates concerned that the process contaminates water supplies — an accusation that has been exhaustively refuted.

So far, the main impediments to progress on these issues have been political.

But, in light of the rising tensions in the Middle East, it’s no longer acceptable for leaders to pass up important opportunities for energy independence.

When it comes to energy, America can’t afford to rely on a part of the world whose fate is increasingly outside of our control.

Chris Faulkner is the CEO of Dallas-based Breitling Energy Companies. www.breitlingenergy.com