for National Geographic News
In his annual State of the Union address, delivered to Congress on January 31, President George W. Bush drew headlines by announcing that the time has come to do something about the United States' "addiction" to oil.
He pledged to invest in alternative energiesincluding ethanol and hydrogen fueland reduce Middle East oil imports by 75 percent by 2025.
It's a worthy goal, but how can the United States achieve it?
The U.S. imports approximately 60 percent of its oil, but relatively little comes from the Middle East.
Only one Persian Gulf country is among the top five foreign sources: Saudi Arabia, which ranks third, behind Canada and Mexico. (The other members of the top five are Venezuela in South America and Nigeria in Africa.)
Reducing Middle Eastern imports therefore won't cure our reliance on foreign oil, says Ray Kopp, an economist at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan think tank.
Even if we imported no Middle Eastern oil, we'd be vulnerable to political instabilities in the region, Kopp says, because global oil prices are tightly linked.
The U.S. is also committed to allies that are strongly dependent on Middle Eastern oil, says Alex Farrell, a professor in the Energy and Resources Group (ERG) at the University of California, Berkeley.
Fuel Economy and Biofuels
President Bush's proposed reduction in Mideast oil imports amounts to about 15 percent of total current U.S. oil usage. Most energy experts view that as a step in the right direction.
One possible way to do it is to increase the average car's fuel economy by a few miles per gallon.
If such regulations were passed today, they would begin to have a significant impact in time to meet the president's 2025 deadline. That's because car designs are planned years in advance and old cars remain on the roads until they wear out.
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