Shaping a Western Hemisphere Energy Policy
2012-11-27 by Robbin Laird
Few would argue the proposition that energy security is a key element for national security and defense policy.
Current over dependence on the Middle East – a region increasingly volatile — and a very aggressive China shaping global energy policy along with a top priority which the Russians have placed on energy — all provide significant challenges to the U.S. in facing its economic future.
Clearly reducing demand through various domestic means, and by augmenting more reliable alternative energy are important tasks.
But generating energy now and in the mid-term via an effective national energy policy, which relies on the Western Hemisphere, is more realistic and crucial.
In the second piece, I focused on the need to defend the littorals, and in the third on the defense of Alaska and shaping an Arctic engagement policy.
These are key elements in allowing the U.S. to move a realistic energy independence policy rooted in the Western Hemisphere.
Three Pacific states are critical in this effort: Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Unfortunately, politics in Washington have made such an energy nexus very difficult to forge and to shape greater security for the United States and greater independence from the Russians or the Middle East.
A key element for an effective Pacific strategy includes providing for greater capability for these Western Hemisphere Pacific powers to tie their energy producing and transportation systems together.
The first key element is the evolution of Canadian policy in terms of energy and Arctic development.
A central element of such a policy is the re-working of its pipeline systems.
One pipeline is designed to ship product from a British Columbia port to Asian customers (the Northern Gateway pipeline).
The second is designed to move product from Canada into the United States through Montana and South Dakota. The current pipeline is to be extended deeper into the United States– the Keystone Pipeline XL — but doing so has been blocked by U.S. policies. And President Obama simply extended the decision on whether or not does this until next year, in spite of the obvious turmoil in the Middle East.
The Keystone Pipeline System is a pipeline system to transport synthetic crude oil and diluted bitumen (“dilbit“) from the Athabasca oil sands region in northeastern Alberta, Canada to multiple destinations in the United States, which include refineries in Illinois, the Cushing oil distribution hub in Oklahoma, and proposed connections to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.
It consists of the operational “Keystone Pipeline” and “Keystone-Cushing Extension”, and two proposed pipeline expansion segments, referred to as Keystone XL Pipeline and the Gulf Coast Project.
After the Keystone XL pipeline segments are completed, American crude oil would enter the XL pipelines at Baker, Montana and Cushing, Oklahoma.
The second key element is U.S. policy in Alaska and the Arctic.
The U.S. is dragging its feet on Alaskan oil and gas development and the current pipeline is not operating at anywhere near full capacity. And of course, the feet dragging on Arctic drilling, which clearly could be connected to this pipeline raises questions about the ability of the pipeline to perform effectively a surge support function to the American economy.
(For a look at the capacity issue for the pipeline see
And security and defense of these areas – in both Canada and the United States – will be of increasing importance to NORTHCOM.
In testimony in the Congress in 2011, by the then NORTHCOM commander underscored:
A peaceful Arctic is central to the continued safety and security of the United States, I have elevated the Arctic to the status of a key focus area…. We are also working hand-in-hand with Canada Command as a vital partner to produce a concept of operations regarding how we would partner in the Arctic to ensure our efforts are coordinated and that we pursue complementary rather than redundant capabilities in accordance with our respective national direction.
Regarding capabilities, we are maturing our understanding of our gaps in this unique environment. We face shortcomings in all-domain awareness, communications, infrastructure (to include a deepwater port), mobility (to include adequate national icebreaking capability), search and rescue enabling capabilities, Arctic Ocean charting, and the ability to observe and forecast Arctic environmental change.
The current NORTHCOM commander (General Charles Jacoby Jr.) has re-inforced the importance of the Arctic to US policy in testimony earlier this year:
The progressive opening of the Arctic represents both challenges and opportunities. Climate change in the Arctic is impacting the land and seascape, creating opportunity for increased human activity and presenting a new set of regional vulnerabilities and potential resource competitions.
Emerging Arctic challenges require deliberate preparation to ensure economic access and freedom of maneuver, and to prevent irresponsible actions. As the Arctic opens, there will be a marked increase in human activity in a push for resources (e.g., fish, diamonds, natural gas) and eco-tourism.
Special capabilities will be required to operate successfully in the Arctic. For instance, icebreakers are an essential capability for the United States to exercise our responsibilities. I believe the nation should continue to exercise freedom of navigation to assure access to this new dimension of the maritime domain.
A third element of a Western Hemisphere energy policy is the role of Mexico and her energy policies after the return of the PRI to power as a result of elections this summer.
A key aspect of the PRI return to power is a different energy policy, one that emphasizes exploitation of resources and enhancement of the Mexican economy from a resurgence of an energy sector.
As the new President underscored:
Pemex (the Mexican state owned energy company) needs to benefit from associating with the private sector in order to make its production more dynamic and increase its profitability and transparency. We need to attract national and international private capital with regard to Exploration and Production where we can undertake more risk than is currently allowed. With regard to Refining, we also need to allow private investment. The formula for success consists in achieving a political consensus to achieve the ‘optimum mix’ between governmental action and private action within Pemex.
- Will Mexican activism be folded into comprehensive U.S. leadership of a Western Hemisphere policy in which safety, security and defense are blended into an effective policy?
- Will the defense of the littorals and the role of American ports and refineries simply be excluded from the practical fruits of an effective Pacific policy?
The Brazilian Factor
Assuming, the U.S. could sort out an effective working relationship with Canada and Mexico on common infrastructure – pipelines, ports, refineries etc. — and an effective way to provide security for the infrastructure, a key foundation would be laid for “fueling” forces for a Pacific Strategy.
And by working through a transparent and even handed relationship among the three, the United States would be in a position to use those foundational capabilitiea to work with others in shaping a more comprehensive and inclusive Western Hemisphere energy policy.
For example, an effective Western Hemisphere energy policy can be extended southward to non-Pacific states as well, notably Brazil.
Brazil is a key energy power in the world today, and one, which does not mind drilling for oil offshore.
The government is deeply concerned with the safety and security of offshore drilling, and the U.S. efforts in coping with the oil spill in the Gulf, rather than being hidden behind political embarrassment, could be wrapped into an effective set of national tools for influence and solid foundation for global cooperation.
And we certainly have not been doing much Inside the Beltway to win the hearts and minds of the Brazilian leadership, notably with the Super Tucano dynamic.
Although we hear much about the global commons and its security and defense from the Administration, apparently it does not embrace a Western Hemisphere energy policy. It is about time it did.