"The Saudis did learn in that period that there was a need for stable prices,
that there was a need to show that they were the dependable sources of supply," said
Mr. Schlesinger, speaking at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation. "If
they were not, other places in the world were discovered that could produce
oil: the North Sea, West Africa. Not only that, but the world's appetite for
oil could be curbed if prices were high enough."
But Mr. Schlesinger and other analysts contend that any progress the United
States made in the 1970s and 80s towards stable energy supplies at reasonable
prices is at risk.
"Our dependence [on foreign oil] has almost doubled since 1973," added Gal
Luft, co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security. "In
1972, the United States imported 28 percent of its oil; today it imports 55
percent, and projections show that 25 years from now it will import 70 percent
of its oil," he continued. "Our dependency is growing, and our dependency on
Middle East oil is also growing. We will import 50 percent of our oil from
the Middle East by 2025."
Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington,
the Bush Administration has renewed U.S. efforts to secure oil from non-OPEC
sources, especially from Russia.
Analysts say diversifying petroleum sources is a worthwhile goal, but caution
that, at best, it constitutes a short term solution. That is because the proven
oil reserves of non-OPEC producers average about 15 years at current production
levels, versus more than 70 years for OPEC nations.
James Schlesinger says, as global demand for oil grows and reserves dwindle,
the United States will have no choice but to turn to OPEC nations to satisfy
its energy needs.
"We should not deceive ourselves, as long as we are dependent on oil to the
degree that we are, that there is a substitute for the Middle East [as a source
of oil]," said Mr. Schlesinger. "Russia sells all of its oil. Over time, non-OPEC
oil will be depleted and we will become more dependent on oil from the Middle
Mr. Schlesinger says he sees no immediate threat of another oil embargo on
the horizon, but that history is worth bearing in mind.
What course should the United States chart for its future energy needs? Gal
Luft says, first and foremost, Americans must have more than one fuel choice
for powering their vehicles.
"Today, the only product that all of us consume, in which we have no choice,
is transportation fuel," he explained. "You have a lot of choices when you
buy a cup of coffee or a pair of shoes. But when you buy transportation fuel,
it is gasoline, gasoline, and gasoline. That has to change."
Mr. Luft recommends a concerted effort to develop alternate fuels and to
promote their use. Other suggestions at the Washington forum included increasing
America's petroleum stockpile, known as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and
to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world.