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DOD’s Oil Dependency: Threat to US National Security? November 17, 2009

Posted by Trice Kabundi in Analysis.
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According to the International Energy Agency, the global demand for oil in the next thirty years will grow by 66 percent. Furthermore, an insufficient amount of sources currently exist to meet such high demand. Increased demand of fuel in the future will result in “large swings in price and availability.” This phenomenon was evident in the summer of 2008 when the price of oil skyrocketed above $100 a barrel and the cost to fill up the 450,000 gallon tank of a DDG-51 Destroyer was $1.8 million. Such expenses and dark forecasts of the world’s fuel sources have prompted many to analyze the impact of the DOD’s high dependency on oil.

Consuming approximately 330,000 barrels of oil per day, the DOD is considered both the “largest government and individual petroleum user” in the US.  In 2008 alone the DOD purchased an estimated 120 million barrels of oil at a cost of $16 billion. Many have linked such high consumption to the national security of the US.  CNA, a non-profit research organization, released a report in October identifying fossil fuels as a threat to the country’s national security due to their ability to be exploited by “those who wish to do us harm.” The report recommended that the US diversify its energy sources and decrease fossil fuel dependency in order to strengthen the country’s energy security.

Other than future energy concerns, the high usage of fuel during the conflicts in both Iraq and Afghanistan have a significant impact on the security and effectiveness of US troops. According to a recent Deloitte study, gallons of fuel consumed per soldier each day since the war in Vietnam have increased by 175 percent. Currently, soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan consume approximately 22 gallons per soldier per day. The quality of the equipment needed to traverse rugged terrain and the required transportation across large expanses of land both contribute to an increased use of fuel.

Fuel and water constitute approximately 70 percent of the tonnage on a battlefield necessary to sustain US military forces. The increasing number of convoys necessary to transport fuel has created more opportunity for insurgents to utilize IEDs and other roadside bombs to destabilize the energy supply of the US and other coalition forces.  According to the report, if the conflict in Afghanistan follows the same fuel usage and transportation framework as the conflict in Iraq, there could be a 124 percent increase in US casualties in Afghanistan now through 2014.

The Navy, which consumes approximately 100,000 barrels of oil per day, has been especially vocal recently about addressing many of these issues. On October 14th at the Naval Energy Forum, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus outlined ambitious goals for the creation of a “green fleet” for the Navy and Marine Corps, and structured a path to increasing the services’ efficiency and technological innovation.

The Navy considers finding alternative energy resources to be a top priority mission for DOD as a whole. According to Barry Spargo, head of the Naval Research Lab (NRL), “The bottom line is that we need to develop alternative power and energy because conservation and efficiency alone will fall short of meeting future needs.” The NRL is currently experimenting and looking into the production of sea-based hydrocarbon fuels, which would allow fuel to be produced and consumed in the same exact location. Also explored has been the utilization of thermal energy trapped in tropical waters. The amount of energy stored in such waters amounts to 300 times more than the current total world energy consumption.

Looking forward, such innovations could make a real difference for traditional national security budgeting concerns as well as climate-based ones.



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