What if gasoline prices doubled? In other words, if you had to pay $5.00 per gallon, how much would that hurt your life?
That’s what happened during the 1970s oil crisis. The Middle East-led Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) weaponized oil by embargoing the United States twice. At that time, America lacked the capacity to make up for the lost oil. In 1978, the average price per gallon was around 60 cents. By 1981, it reached $1.35. The economy went into severe recession and millions lost their jobs.
But more recently, major unrest in the Middle East has not affected Americans as strongly as it used to.
On September 14, 2019, Iranian-backed militias attacked the world’s largest oil refinery, in Saudi Arabia. The attack cut the refinery’s capacity in half.
But despite some expert predictions, oil prices barely flinched. Americans saw no price spike at the pump.
Iran escalated the violence. Its proxies assaulted the American embassy in Baghdad just before New Year’s Day. This attack could have sent fuel prices through the roof, hurting our economy. But even after the United States responded by killing the Iranian terrorist general who orchestrated the attacks, fuel prices rose a little and then dropped back to where they were before the hostilities. If you blinked, you missed it.
The likelihood that Iran or any other bad actor can use violence or weaponize oil to hurt the global economy has dramatically receded. Why?
American energy leadership is why. As the chief regulator of oil and gas production in Texas, I am on the front lines of American energy production. And I am seeing a revolution that helps all Americans.
Our modern economy needs energy. From the smart phone in your hand to the lights in your home to the electric cars more Americans drive, we depend on affordable and reliable energy. We have vast proven oil reserves, we have the technology to extract it, and under the Trump administration we have the freedom to produce it and get it to market. Americans produce oil and gas more affordably and reliably than anyone else.
This affects everything for the better, including the environment. When I was building my business, I visited about half the world’s refineries. No one produces energy more cleanly than Americans do. Some point to flaring natural gas as an issue. Natural gas is a by-product of oil production. No one likes flaring, but producers are flaring just one to three percent of the total natural gas produced in Texas.
The solution to flaring is not to slow down oil production, or ban fossil fuels as some suggest, but to speed development of pipelines and other capacity to get natural gas to market. America has actually reduced emissions faster than any other industrialized country, thanks to the market-driven switch to natural gas. We just need to get more of it to market here and around the world.
The United States was once desperately dependent on foreign oil. In 1973 we imported about 35% of our oil from the Middle East. In 2019, the United States became a net oil exporter. Now, we produce 12 million barrels per day (5 million in Texas alone) and import less than 10% of our oil from the Middle East.
We have diversified our other foreign sources. When we were dependent on Middle Eastern oil, American forces had to stand cop on the beat to keep the oil flowing through chokepoints such as the Straits of Hormuz. This made us more likely to get into wars. Now our energy sources are more stable and reliable than ever.
Energy is one cost that no one in our modern economy can avoid. Unlocking America’s energy makes us safer and richer. For the teacher or nurse making $60,000 per year, at current gas prices you’re paying about $2,600 per year for gas if you commute 25 minutes to and from work every day. A 1973-size gas price spike would raise your costs significantly, to around $4,000 per year – just to drive to work. The price of the electricity to power your home would also rise significantly. You’d feel that pinch right in the wallet. I’m working every day to make sure that doesn’t happen.
What do Americans really want from oil and gas producers? Affordable and reliable energy produced as cleanly and safely as possible. How do we get that?
Drill baby drill. Right here in America.
Ryan Sitton is the Texas Railroad Commissioner.