as a percentage of petroleum consumed.
As Beutler points out, Richard Nixon and every president since has invoked energy independence as a goal but, starting with Ronald Reagan, they've all been careful not to establish a near-term deadline. Romney has broken that cautious three-decade tradition, actually placing independence within a time-frame during which he could be in the Oval Office were he to somehow beat the odds and win the election this year and for a second term.
Oil independence is what Romney is talking about. That's no surprise given that his top energy adviser is Harold Hamm, the shale-oil billionaire who is the 78th richest man in the world. The League of Conservation Voters counted 154 mentions of oil in the energy plan. It includes just 24 mentions of wind and solar, nine of them with a sneer.
No amount of drilling could make the United States oil independent unless consumption was drastically cut. Right now, the U.S. consumes about 19 million barrels of oil a day, producing 7-8 mbd and importing in the neighorhood of 11 mbd. Which is why North America was selected for the plan. The U.S. now imports a little less than 20 percent of the oil it consumes from Canada and Mexico.
So, how possible is regional independence? Could North America could become oil independent in eight years? This would mean current production would have to be doubled in that time frame.
Technically achievable, perhaps. Just build enough new drilling rigs and steamroll objections by decentralizing regulation and turning over to the states the permitting and licensing of onshore drilling on federal lands, as Romney has proposed to do. Paul Blumenthal pointed out last month that the huge booms now going on in Alaska and North Dakota under the current regulatory regime that Romney and his cronies like Hamm call too onerous would be allowed to expand with no supervision from Washington. Getting rid of such supervision over all resources on federal lands has been a dream of the right wing ever since the Sagebrush Rebelllion of the 1970s.
The oil the plan would require going after is a lot tougher to get at and, like the Canadian tar sands and high-sulfur Mexican oil, a lot dirtier. But then "pollution" is, like "climate," a word that doesn't appear in Romney's plan.
Getting at more difficult oil means spending more money to do it. Because oil is a global commodity, the price is set internationally. So, there comes a time when the price per barrel that can be obtained squeezes the return on investment to the point that investors will look elsewhere to put their money. That's when the technically-feasible-maybes collide with the financing-certainties. The cost of getting at that new oil is far more than pumping out the easy stuff we've drilled so far. Those record oil company profits we've been seeing are mostly a product of that easier oil in which the drilling and other costs have already been accounted for.
Even if every national forest and wildlife preserve were opened up to the whirr of the drill bit, the obstacles to doubling production at all, much less in less than a decade would be immense. Again, that's ignoring the environmental consequences, which, of course, Romney and climate-science denier Paul Ryan are all too happy to do.
Besides all its other smoke and mirrors, implicit in Romney's energy plan is the promise that the projected boom in oil production would drive down gasoline costs at the pump. This is baloney. While speculation and other matters such as refinery fires and maintenance play into the price at the pump in the short term, oil and gasoline prices have tracked quite closely over the years. More production in North America, especially more production of an ever-more-difficult-to-extract resource, will not bring the price of gasoline down any more than it will provide energy independence.