How Using Oil Affects Our Military, And What We’re Doing About It

, , Senior policy and legal analyst | July 1, 2014, 10:19 am EDT
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Did you know the U.S. military is the largest user of oil in the world? Neither did I, until my UCS colleagues and I teamed up with the good folk at the Truman National Security Project to help tell the story about our military and oil use.

What we discovered was so compelling that we decided to produce a quick 2 minute video that explains how our oil use affects our military and what we’re doing about it. Check it out if you have a minute or two. Better yet, share this video with your networks so more people can learn how the military is investing in oil saving solutions that can have civilian applications too.

Price Spikes & Vulnerable Convoys

Our military uses a lot of oil, which costs a lot of money. This means that every time the price of oil increases, even by a relatively small amount, our military spends a whole lot more on fuel. For example, a 10 dollar price increase in a barrel of oil costs the military around $1.3 billion dollars; money that can’t then be used to protect and train our service men and women, or protect our national security. And, as we all know, the price of oil is hardly stable.

Moreover, moving fuel on the battlefield requires large convoys of oil tankers, which become a big tactical vulnerability. At the height of operations in Afghanistan, one in 24 convoys ended in an American casualty.

And of course, the more oil we use, the more climate change pollutants we emit, and our changing climate has serious impacts for our military. The U.S. Government Accountability Office recently identified how climate change phenomena such as rising temperatures and sea levels impact our military’s infrastructure. For example, the combination of thawing permafrost, decreasing sea ice, and rising sea levels on the Alaskan coast has increased coastal erosion at several Air Force installations, damaging roads, seawalls, and runways. These impacts are so serious and damaging that the GAO even posted a video about how an extreme rain event caused close to $64 million worth of damage to Fort Irwin.

We Can’t Drill Our Way Out

So using oil causes problems for us and our military. But we can’t just drill for more oil and hope that these problems go away for two primary reasons.

First, oil, like any other major commodity, is traded on a global market so the price of a barrel of oil is determined by global supply and demand. Consequently, global supply disruptions, like instability and conflict in the Middle East, can drive prices up here at home, even if we are producing more oil domestically or don’t even receive oil from the country in turmoil.

Second, the era of “easy” oil is about to be over. Back in the day, oil was relatively easy to get. Find oil underground. Drill a hole. Let oil come up the hole. Repeat. But supplies of these “conventional” oil sources are dwindling. Now, oil companies are turning to “unconventional” source of oil that you have probably heard about. Tar sands, tight oil, and shale oil all fall under this category. But these “new oil and gas” resources aren’t really new at all –they are only available because the oil industry is now desperate enough to go after dirtier, more difficult and expensive oil than they were before, at times literally squeezing oil out of sand and rocks. As the era of cheap and easy oil ends, oil production will lead to even more destructive practices that are not solving the problems associated with our oil use.

The Real Solution is to Use Less

Avid readers of this blog space know that the real solution to oil is to use less; and the military is doing just that. The Navy, for example, is using non-food based biofuels in ships and planes while the Army is putting hybrid-electric propulsion systems in HUMVEEs and other vehicles.

The USS Makin Island

USS Makin Island is the Navy’s first Wasp-class amphibious assault ship with a hybrid-electric propulsion system. On her maiden voyage, the Makin Island saved approximately one million gallons of fuel, and is expected to save more than $250 million annually. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons.

Reducing oil use through increasing efficiency and investing in innovative ways to power our military’s transportation needs is helping protect our military from the price spikes and other problems associated with oil, and is creating a stronger, more effective fighting force. Applying these same approaches to civilian life, we can cut our nation’s oil use in half in twenty years.

For more information on how the military is working to reduce our oil use, check out this webpage and associated fact sheet, and help spread the word about our new video that explains it all in under 2 minutes.

Posted in: Global Warming, Vehicles

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