Proponents of offshore oil drilling ignore reality: offshore oil reserves are too small to significantly impact world oil prices or U.S. reliance on foreign oil. Offshore oil, which necessitates costly and environmentally dangerous drilling, would produce about 514 million barrels annually by 2030—less than 1 percent of global oil production.
This paper identifies five alternatives to offshore oil for the transportation sector that would decrease energy demand, limit U.S. dependence on foreign oil, cut costs for consumers, and reduce carbon emissions. The transportation sector accounts for nearly three quarters of all petroleum use in the United States and is responsible for 42 percent of carbon emissions.
Five alternatives that make more sense than offshore oil:
- Increasing fuel economy standards: This is the single most important, efficient, and cost-effective way to reduce petroleum consumption. Raising the average fuel economy from 23 to 35 mpg could save 1.2 billion barrels of oil and up to $150 billion per year.
- Hybrid-electric vehicles (HEVs): If half the cars on the road by 2030 were HEVs, the United States could reduce petroleum consumption by 1.2 billion barrels per year, saving consumers up to $120 billion annually.
- Alternative commuting patterns: If twenty percent of Americans worked from home three days a week, they could collectively save 149 million barrels of oil. Additionally, the United States could save 54 million barrels of oil a year if half of eligible workers switched to a four-day work week.
- Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs): While currently constrained by cost and technological advancements, plug-in hybrids could be an attractive option in the future, potentially saving 1.6 billion barrels of oil if PHEVs one day accounted for 50 percent of vehicles. But the full environmental benefits from plug-in hybrids will only be realized if the electric grid in the United States can be converted to use more renewable energy sources.
- Cellulosic ethanol: Unlike corn ethanol, cellulosic ethanol—produced from the fiber of plants like switchgrass—could reduce emissions 87–94 percent compared to gasoline. Cellulosic gasoline is predicted to produce 133 million barrels of oil annually by 2030, saving consumers $5.6 billion dollars per year.
“The first step toward weaning our nation off petroleum is to take full advantage of the efficient technologies we already have,” writes Leonard. “We can then supplement these with more advanced technologies to maximize our long-term environmental, economic, and security gains.”