Business and political leaders agreed that U.S. energy independence was on the way, but differed over the form it would take during a conference Wednesday.
"In the next three or five years we will become energy independent. I think by 2020[…] there’s a very good chance the United States could be energy independent," said former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
Panetta’s comments were delivered at the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) conference titled "OPEC Oil Embargo +40: A National Summit on Energy Security," hosted by Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE). Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, retired Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Conway, former Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.), and FedEx CEO Fred Smith were among the speakers.
"I’m uncomfortable with the [term] energy independence," Conway said, pointing out that there will always be a global oil market. "I like to think of it more in terms of energy security."
The speakers all agreed energy independence, or as close to it as possible, is crucial to U.S. national security. The way to achieve it likely lies in an increased use of green energy alternatives, increasing U.S. production of oil and energy resources, and reducing demand.
"As long as we have that dependency it is a major weakness that our enemies can exploit," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values and a former domestic policy adviser to former President Ronald Reagan.
OPEC currently exports the most crude oil to the United States. The tepid relationship between the United States and many of the nations that comprise OPEC renders that dependency concerning, the speakers said.
The need to address supply as well as demand was highlighted by speakers. The key area of demand in the United States comes from transportation and alternate modes of transportation must be encouraged in order to achieve energy security.
For many conservatives that is best achieved by an increase in domestic production, through vehicles such as fracking and coal mining.
"The current energy boom in the U.S. is creating an unprecedented opportunity to harness that abundance and make us more self-sufficient," Kyl said.
Coal is often condemned as "dirty" energy, though it is making technological strides resulting in a "cleaner" product that could embolden the U.S. energy landscape.
Additionally, the United States is on the path to become "the largest non‐OPEC liquids producer by the second quarter of 2014." The United States in the last two quarters has seen its highest output of oil in decades, producing more than 10 million barrels per day, according to Reuters.
The increase is largely attributed to the shale oil boom, which is most commonly associated with fracking.