Robert Bryce's first book, Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, received rave reviews and was named one of the best non-fiction books of 2002 by Publishers Weekly. His second book, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate, was published 2004.
Reason Magazine senior editor Brian Doherty, author of This is Burning Man and Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement, recently interviewed Bryce. The opening exchanges of the interview:
reason: While “energy independence” has soared to fresh public prominence in this era of soaring gas prices and Mideast wars, it’s not a new idea, is it?Read the full interview.
Robert Bryce: The first president to promote the idea was [Richard] Nixon in the wake of the oil embargo in 1973. In his State of the Union address in 1974, Nixon said that he was aiming for energy independence by the end of the decade. He hoped that by 1980 the U.S. would not be importing any oil. And every president since Nixon, in one way or another, has espoused a similar idea. But if you look back at the data, the U.S. was a net crude oil importer [as early as] 1913 and ever since we’ve been a net crude importer with a handful of years [as exceptions]. It’s remarkable how much the rhetoric about “energy independence” has had no connection with reality.
reason: What do its proponents think we can get out of energy independence?
Bryce: The main talking points for those who promote energy independence are, one, that if we were just more tech-savvy we can develop lots of new jobs, and that would be great—we can build windmills, solar panels, whatever nifty new whizbang tech is going to replace oil, and that will stimulate the economy.
Second, they love biofuels. We can just grow the fuels we need to replace imported oil and it will be great for farmers and the rural economy. Third, [energy independence proponents] conflate oil and terrorism. Those arguments really came to the fore since the 9/11 attacks. We buy imported oil, some of our suppliers are Islamic petro-states, some Islamic petro-states send some dollars to support radical Islam, therefore oil equals terrorism and “energy independence” is anti-terror.
The idea is that if we could isolate the oil-exporting countries that in theory support terror we’d cut off its lifeline. The connections of Saudi Arabia to the 9/11 terror attacks are real, I’m not denying that. But you cannot, given the complexity and enormous size and interconnectedness of the global crude oil market, separate one actor from another.
S. Fred Singer [of the Science and Environmental Policy Project] came up with the best analogy. He described the global oil market like a big bathtub. All the oil production is dumped into one bathtub and all consumers have straws sucking oil out. [For all economic purposes] it’s like we’re all sucking from the same common pool. To say you are not gonna buy Saudi oil, or Algerian oil—it’s crazy. For example, the U.S. hasn’t purchased a dime of Iranian oil—except for a small amount in the early ‘90s, but for the most part no Iranian oil since 1979. And that hasn’t stopped Iran from supporting Hezbollah.