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Communications > Sustainability Plus > Posts > Expert: The Path to U.S. Energy Security Will Be Diverse

If we followed the practice of Joe Friday of Dragnet fame and stuck just with the facts, those facts would portray a grim picture of American's energy situation, even with President Obama's recent decision to expand offshore drilling, according to one expert.

Here's why in a nutshell: As the New York Times stressed in an editorial posted this morning, the most optimistic projection for oil extraction from the areas approved for drilling by the Obama Administration is 63 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil.

"That sounds like a lot, but it isn't, since the United States consumes more than 7 billion barrels each year," the editorial stated. "As Mr. Obama noted, the basic energy math remains unchanged: a country that consumes one-quarter of the world's oil, but owns about 2 percent of the world's known reserves, cannot drill its way to efficiency."

In Huntsville, Mark Hall, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System's renewable energy specialist, expresses wholehearted agreement with this grim assessment. Even so, he says Obama's decision was a sound one.

Oil drilling has a role to play, Hall says, though it will only prove to be a temporary measure along a path to energy security that, in terms of other energy sources, will become increasingly diverse. And, yes, while renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, will be heavily emphasized, these will comprise only a part of this path, Hall says.

For the last few years, policy makers as well as many bioenergy experts have touted biofuels as a solution to U.S. dependence.

To be sure, some nations are deriving considerable success from biofuel adoption, notably Germany, which is emerging as a major biodiesel producer, generating about half of a billion gallons of biodiesel annually.

Even so, Hall says it's highly likely that biofuels may end up comprising only the first step along what will be an increasingly variegated path. In the end, he believes that biofuels will turn out to be what he describes as bridge technologies — approaches "that will allow us to gain a measure of self-sufficiency until more lucrative technologies can be developed."

For example, the demand for corn-derived ethanol has also played a major role in driving up food prices. Moreover, even in the most ideal circumstances, it would require an additional 400-million acres of corn to produce the ethanol required to produce the gasoline that is consumed annually in the United States — basically all the open land currently available in the United States, including pastureland.

For now, Hall says this diverse path to U.S. energy security will comprise a mixture of domestic petroleum production and enhanced ethanol production, with an increasing emphasis on biomass- derived ethanol. In the decades to come, Hall suspects greater emphasis on other sources, such as geothermal and nuclear energy and even algae in the coming years.

For its part, the Obama administration has stressed that expanded oil production and gas exploration will not address the nation's long-term energy needs and should be seen as one element in a much broader energy strategy.