HOUSTON – When OPEC banned oil exports to the United States in 1973, creating long gas lines, President Richard Nixon pledged an effort that would combine the spirit of the Apollo program and the resolve of the Manhattan Project.
“By the end of this decade, we will develop the potential to meet our own energy needs without depending on any foreign energy source,” he said in a televised address. .
His time has passed – it took more than 40 years – but the country has come close to energy independence in recent years thanks to an increase in domestic production of shale oil and natural gas as well as mining. solar and wind energy.
However, that independence is fragile. Last week, cars lined up at gas stations across the Southeast after the Colonial Pipeline was crippled by a cyberattack by a criminal group seeking ransom. The power grid is also under greater pressure due to climate change. Last year, a heatwave in California and a deep freeze in Texas forced power outages as electricity demand outstripped supply.
“Eight presidents wanted energy independence and now we have it,” said Daniel Yergin, energy historian and author of “The New Map: Energy, Climate, and Conflict of Nations: Eight presidents wanted energy independence and now we have reached it. If we do that, we have more resilience in the global oil market. “But resiliency remains a question of how the system behaves under stressful conditions whether you’re talking about pipelines or electrical power.”
The disruption to the Colonial Pipeline has nothing to do with turmoil in the Middle East or inadequate American energy production. However, the rare panic buying in decades created shortages, and prices at the pump jumped as much as 20 cents a gallon for regular gasoline in some states in a matter of days, according to AAA.
Mr Yergin said that long lines of drivers at pumps to refill petrol cans and even plastic bags had made the situation worse. The impetus to hoard returned strongly after the oil shock of the 1970s and seemed to touch a conductor in the national psyche.
“People remember the gas pipelines even before they were born,” Mr. Yergin said.
Colonial Pipeline, a privately held company, resumed operations over the weekend, but it will be at least a few more days before many gas stations are back on. On Tuesday, the company said one of its computer servers crashed as it worked to restore and harden its system.
Energy companies will come under greater pressure from governments and investors to bulk up their defenses against cyberattacks, but those and other vulnerabilities won’t be easy be remedied, especially after years of not investing.
In the case of the California and Texas networks, there are few easy fixes for the weaknesses caused by heatwaves and freezing temperatures that have cost those states billions of dollars, while also costing many lives, and thousands of homeless people. The low-lying of the country’s two most populous states shows that power plants and power lines are not prepared for the extreme weather events that climate scientists say will become commonplace. more frequently in the coming years due to the accumulation of planet-warming gases in the atmosphere.
According to the Department of Energy, nationwide, weather-related power outages have increased by two-thirds since 2000.
“Our traditional strategies for producing and delivering energy are being threatened by climate and cyberterrorism,” said Mark Brownstein, senior vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “As we move towards a cleaner and more sustainable energy future, we also need to move towards a fundamentally more resilient future.”
Upgrading the energy system will not be easy. Dozens of competing companies that operate a vast network of oil and gas wells, pumping stations, transmission lines and power plants will need companionship to make their operations more resilient to challenges. weather attack and crime. Significant funding will have to come from business and government, as well as research to prevent cybercrime. President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan spends $100 billion on the transmission grid.
The quest for energy independence has never been a straight line, and there have been many unfortunate twists and turns. The Middle East’s reliance on oil is a big consideration in military action and diplomatic strategy, including alliances with countries like Saudi Arabia with troubling human rights records. Half a century ago, the country switched from burning hot oil to becoming more dependent on coal, which has contributed to climate change.
But the search for energy independence also leads to innovation. Fracking – the hydraulic fracturing of shale oil and natural gas fields – not only cut energy imports but also made the United States a major exporter. Suddenly, oil and gas was not a national security loophole but a tool to advance American interests.
For more than 15 years, U.S. oil and gas production has kept energy prices low at home and abroad, boosting the global economy. Energy exports have helped Washington compete with Russian gas shipments to Europe, helped allies like Japan import more energy, and blocked oil shipments from Iran and Venezuela.
In another twist, the shale boom has also made some parts of the United States more vulnerable. In recent years, half a dozen refineries along the East Coast have closed because they cannot compete with the more advanced refineries on the Gulf Coast, which benefit from the country’s abundant and cheap oil and gas resources. Texas. Flow on the Colonial Pipeline, which links Gulf refineries with New Jersey, has steadily grown to meet nearly half of the region’s transportation fuel needs.
As hurricanes make landfall and Gulf refineries close, gasoline and diesel prices tend to rise along the East Coast. Usually that’s not a big deal because companies store a lot of fuel close to where it’s used and trucks and barges can often make a difference. This time, however, uncertainty about how long it will take to restore supplies makes the Colonial Pipeline shutdown much more disruptive.
The ransomware attack is the work of DarkSide, a blackmail organization that has been responsible for numerous attacks on companies in several countries. But it’s hardly the only group that hacks into computer systems to extort money. Others have names like REvil, Maze and LockBit.
“Technology evolves very quickly, you solve one or two or twenty possible vulnerabilities in your computer system and hackers find another way to get in.” Drue Pearce, former deputy manager of the Federal Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Bureau.
Criminal groups represent a threat to industries beyond energy. But experts say energy is of particular concern because it is essential for a functioning economy. The danger is as complex as reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil, said Bill Richardson, the former Energy Secretary.
“This is a new threat that we are not prepared for,” he said.