America: Without a Plan, Without a Clue
By Edwin Black
It will come as a shock to most Americans and the media, but as the election reaches a crescendo on the issue of preparedness and energy, neither candidate—nor any in local, state or federal government—has developed a contingency plan in the event of a protracted oil cut-off. It is not even being discussed. Government has prepared for hurricanes, anthrax, terrorism and every other disaster, but not the one threatened daily—a protracted oil stoppage, whether caused by terrorism, intervention in the Persian Gulf or a natural disaster.
It is like seeing a hurricane developing without a disaster plan or evacuation route. Our allies have oil shortage interruption contingency plans, but America does not.
The crude realities: America uses approximately 20 million barrels of oil per day, almost 70 percent of which is imported. If we lose just 1 million barrels per day, or suffer the type of damage sustained from Katrina, the government will open the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which offers a mere 6-8 week supply of unrefined crude oil. If we lose 1.5 million barrels per day, or approximately 7.5 percent, we will ask our allies in the 28-member International Energy Agency to open their SPRs and otherwise assist. If we lose 2 million barrels per day, or ten percent, government crisis monitors say the chaos will be so catastrophic they cannot even model it.
Exactly how could America be subjected to a protracted oil interruption, that is, a 10 percent shortfall lasting longer than several weeks? It will not come from hurricane action in the Gulf of Mexico, or even major refinery accidents or other oil infrastructure damage. Such damage would be repaired within days and the temporary losses absorbed by the small half million barrel per day global cushion available.
Nor will fuel chaos arise from pinprick sabotage against oil facilities or pipelines in such places as Mexico or Nigeria. Home-grown insurgents in faraway places have long targeted petroleum infrastructure as a means of pressuring their local governments. But those attacks can be defended against, the damage repaired, and workarounds developed.
However, if one, two or all of three vital chokepoints are hit by terrorists flying hijacked 747s or Iranian military action—the Abqaiq processing plant, the Ras Tanura terminal in Saudi Arabia, or the two-mile per sea lane Strait of Hormuz—as much as 40 percent of all seaborne oil will be stopped, as much as 18 percent of all global supply will be interrupted, and from 12 to 20 percent of the U.S. supply will be cut off. Estimates are the U.S. shortfall could be even higher. Repeat attacks could prolong the crisis for many months, which is exactly what either Al Qaeda or Iranian militants have promised. Yet there is no plan.
The best experts predict that if we suffer as much as ten percent for any period of time, let alone twenty percent, it will be a neighbor-against-neighbor “Mad Max scenario” as food shortages swell and a storm of economic collapse surges across the country. Indeed, experts have been warning about this looming calamity for years. But the government and presidential candidates refuse to even consider the possibility or develop a contingency plan.
Yet our allies have developed oil contingency legislation and other administrative plans that will permit their nations to survive a stoppage. These measures include severe vehicle traffic reductions, enabling fast alternative fuel production and mass vehicle retrofitting, as well as rush public transit enhancement, and mandated changes in driving habits. Unquestionably, for America to survive such a catastrophe will require a very painful, multilayered program of immediate-term, short-term, mid-term and long-term fixes that will change our society and transform it off oil. The nation has no real alt fuel or retrofitting infrastructure. But every lawmaker, mayor, governor and every candidate must develop such a plan—and now.
If the country waits until the disaster strikes—until the oil is shut off, we have little or no chance. If we start now, the day before, we can survive. How we start and when we start will define the degree of pain or success of this process.
Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling investigative author of IBM and the Holocaust, Internal Combustion and his just released book, The Plan: How to Save America When the Oil Stops—or the Day Before (Dialog Press), from which this article is adapted.
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