Have you seen those oil tankers being pulled around everywhere? Railroads like to park them in low income neighborhoods or run them between lakes.You probably haven’t heard much about oil lately. It gets overshadowed unless there is a major spill, but almost everything you use in your life is a derivative of crude oil.
America is addicted to oil. I doubt this is the first time you have heard this, but what does this addiction really mean?
Let’s look at the major characteristics of addiction. Addiction is a condition which a person develops biopsychosocial dependence on any mood-altering substance or behavior. As use increases, the amount of substance required to produce the same effects increases; this is referred to as tolerance. A high tolerance makes living without the substance increasingly difficult and leads to compulsive behavior. Withdrawal is a physical and mental sickness experienced in the absence of the substance.
When most people talk about America’s addiction to oil they point to the big consumption numbers. The United States makes up 4.4 percent of the world population. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, we consume 25 percent of the global oil reserves, with a total of 7.19 billion barrels of petroleum products in 2016. That’s a lot of energy.
But heavy consumption is only one characteristic of addiction. Often ignored is the compulsion to use more oil. A current example of this is Donald Trump’s America First Energy Policy. Trump has made it a priority to issue more drilling permits and approve major pipeline projects. This is even though the United States is now a net exporter of oil. This energy policy is rumored to create jobs, so compulsively extracting all our natural resources is justified, I guess.
Maybe the best example of compulsion is hydraulic fracturing. When crude oil was plentiful in this country, drilling was like sticking a straw straight down in the ground. If they hit a pocket of oil they were rich, if they missed it was on to the next site. Nowadays, instead of leaving the site the drilling crew digs at an angle and send pressurized chemicals into the earth. This fractures the sedimentary rock allowing oil and natural gas to rise to the surface.
I know this is all technical but hydraulic fracturing has serious consequences for local ecosystems and ground water supplies. Unfortunately, the Canadian and US government have worked to streamline extraction with permits and infrastructure development.
Fear of withdrawal is often a reason addicts continue to use. In 1973 an oil crisis began when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries placed an embargo on the United States. This put the global economy in a state of crisis as oil prices quadrupled. A similar crisis occurred in 1979 when the Iranian revolution reduced oil output. Both these events occurred in the formative years of many elected officials.
U.S. oil consumption is not just a bad habit, it is an addiction. The effects of this addiction are immeasurable because of the diversity of consequences: global warming, polluted groundwater, and foreign military interventions. It is our generation’s obligation to address this addiction, but can we really go without oil? Well, not today. We can pressure legislators on state and national levels to promote clean energy subsidies and to oppose the fossil fuel industry. On a personal level we can drive less and buy local.