Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
August 4, 2015

Mullen: Shale Oil Only Marginal Reprieve for Global Security

Senate Armed Services Committee

Mullen at a congressional hearing 2011, when he was still Joint Chiefs chairman. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

If you think the United States is on the verge of energy independence and is impervious to supply disruptions in the Middle East, think again, former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen said Wednesday.

“The United States interests there are directly tied to energy security in that part of the world,” the retired Navy admiral said at an energy security luncheon Wednesday, hosted by his group Securing America’s Future Energy and the Foreign Policy Initiative. “That’s why we’ve been there, it’s why we’ll be there, and we’re going to be there, I think, for some time.”

Mullen’s comments blunted a common refrain that the current shale oil and gas boom would lead to energy independence, as Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas had said earlier at the event.

Because of oil coming from fracked shale in Texas, North Dakota and other states “we don’t have to worry about whatever comes out of the Persian Gulf,” Green had said. “We’re going to, in a few years, be producing enough oil in our country that we wouldn’t need to import it.”

Under basic assumptions, the United States will likely be dependent on foreign imports for the foreseeable future, according to projections from the Energy Information Administration. Because of that, Mullen said, the nation should very much be concerned with stability in the Middle East.

“We’re not going to control the price of a barrel of oil, and while we might have a lot more of it ourselves, in the end we’re still going to be dependent on that price.”

The shale boom should instead be viewed as a reprieve – an opportunity to establish global security while determining how to reduce domestic dependence on oil, he said.

The U.S. boom has been credited with providing the flexibility to leverage sanctions against Iran – though production shortfalls in Libya, Iraq and Nigeria have constrained global supply to the point that may make ongoing sanctions untenable, according to a report his group released Tuesday.

“We have a lot more leverage,” Mullen said. “We need to take advantage of that, quite frankly, as rapidly as possible,” because the next five years may be as unpredictable as the last. He called for a comprehensive energy policy to protect the nation’s long-term interests. “We shouldn’t just run to the extremes because we’re in a lot better position than we were a few years ago,” he said.

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