Saturday, September 03, 2016

Threat of the other & US energy security

The intertwining of US foreign policy with the country’s energy security has been a matter of public discourse for decades. The connection only witnessed a dilution of sorts roughly six years ago when the US shale bonanza started easing the economy’s reliance on oil imports in meaningful volumes. 

In an era of ‘lower for longer’ oil prices and shale’s contribution to US energy security being hot topics, author Sebastian Herbstreuth refreshingly reframes the country’s ‘energy dependency’ as a cultural discourse via his latest book – Oil and American Identity published by I.B. Tauris

In a book of 270 pages, split by six detailed chapters, Herbstreuth attempts to draw and examine a connection between the US energy business and American views on independence, freedom, consumption, abundance, progress and exceptionalism.

Stateside, foreign oil is selectively depicted as a serious threat to US national security. However, that selective depiction is contingent upon the ‘foreignness of foreign oil’ to quote the author. Herbstreuth shows how even reliable imports from the Middle East are portrayed as dangerous and undesirable because the region is particularly 'foreign' from an American point of view, while oil from friendly countries like neighbouring Canada is cast as a benign form of energy trade.

The author has somewhat controversially, and rather brilliantly, recast the history of US foreign oil dependence as a cultural history of the world’s largest energy consumer in the 20th Century.

That age-old concern about there being an existential threat to the US, as a society built on the internal combustion engine and mobility, is in part born out of the very cultural fears flagged by the author in some detail.

The striking thing is that the fear still lurks around despite the rising contribution of US shale oil and gas to US energy security. Reading Herbstreuth’s work you feel that in many ways the said fear slant is never going to go away, for it is as much a cultural issue as a geopolitical or economic one, neatly packaged by the political classes for the ultimate ‘Hydrocarbon Society’.

The Oilholic would be happy to recommend Oil and American Identity to fellow analysts, those interested in the oil and gas business and cultural studies students. Furthermore, a whole host of readers looking to ditch archaic theories and seeking a fresh perspective on the crude state of US energy politics would find Herbstreuth’s arguments to be pretty powerful.

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© Gaurav Sharma 2016. © Photo: Front Cover – Oil and American Identity © I.B. Tauris, 2016.

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