Why the Fight Over the “Great Green Fleet” is Fuelish

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Navy Photo / MCS Seaman Chris Brown

Fuels Distribution Systems Operator David Riggs in Manchester, Wash., secures a fueling hose during a biofuels transfer to the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187). Henry J. Kaiser took on 900,000 gallons of a 50/50 blend of advanced biofuels and is scheduled to deliver the biofuels to platforms participating in the Great Green Fleet demonstration during the exercise Rim of the Pacific this month.

Next week in the Pacific Ocean, more than 25,000 American sailors and Marines will conduct one of the largest naval war games ever held. Along with grueling training under combat conditions, this will be an important test for critical new military technology: the fuel for the exercise itself. The Navy pilots will fly the world’s most advanced combat aircraft up to twice the speed of sound — powered by an American-made biofuel blend made from algae and recycled cooking oil. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has dubbed this the “Great Green Fleet.”

Yet not all welcome this development. Some members of Congress oppose the military’s renewable fuel programs. Meanwhile, thousands of veterans across the nation stand together in a coalition called Operation Free, united in their belief that our addiction to oil is a critical national security threat and that renewable fuels are essential to the future.

Operation Free’s veteran volunteers come from all over the country and from every political persuasion. But we all agree on one thing: America depends on oil to a dangerous degree, and we do not produce enough of it here at home to ensure our future security or prosperity. Indeed, in conversations with veterans across America, I have yet to meet a single one who disputes this troubling reality.

That should not come as a surprise. Veterans, after all, have walked the burning oil fields of Iraq and defended fuel convoys in Afghanistan; they’ve faced oil-funded Taliban insurgents and oil-purchased Iranian weapons. They have seen first-hand that our thirst for oil has a direct impact on military operations on both the tactical and strategic level. And overwhelmingly, veterans want to do something about it.

Some would argue that new drilling technologies allow us to reach enough oil to meet our nation’s demand. This is a fallacy, for at least three reasons. First, we cannot drill enough here in the United States to meet our needs. The U.S. consumes more than 20 percent of the world’s oil, but has about three percent of the world’s reserves.  Simply put, we cannot drill our way out of this problem.  Second, American families would remain vulnerable to price spikes at the pump even if we produced more in America. Oil is traded globally, so a change in supply or demand anywhere in the world affects the price here, regardless of where the oil comes from. In 2000, truck drivers in England went on strike over gas prices at a time when the British were producing more oil than they could use. But that didn’t protect British truckers from rising world oil prices. When it comes to the price we pay at the pump, there’s no such thing as “foreign” oil.

Finally, global demand for oil is rising breathtakingly fast. While American demand has been relatively flat for some time, demand in China, India and the rest of the developing world is skyrocketing. Over the next two decades, China’s oil consumption is expected to grow by 80 percent and India’s will double. Increasing domestic production to make up for the growth in international demand is a fiction. Yet even if it were possible, OPEC and other producers will do what they’ve done for decades: artificially reduce their production to generate higher prices.

Reality is stark: Even if we could find enough oil in the U.S. to meet our own demand, the most optimistic oil man would admit we will never be able to meet global demand with American oil.  And without alternatives, we have no choice but to pay whatever price the oil market demands.

This is a future no American should embrace. Instead, we must use our resources wisely, innovate and invest in new technologies, and trust in the entrepreneurial spirit and skilled labor of our fellow citizens. We must follow the example set by our men and women in the Pacific next week, and seize control of our energy future.

 Mike Breen is a former U.S. Army Captain, Vice President of the Truman National Security Project and a Surrogate for the clean energy campaign, Operation Free.