The national security effects of the shale boom are just as nuanced as the economic and environmental tradeoffs. Simply speaking, the increased domestic production of oil and gas and the associated reduction in energy imports are good for reducing our national security vulnerabilities and improving our geopolitical posture. There are many reasons to cheer on this rapid turnaround, and peace activists and national security hawks can revive their ambitions to end our foreign entanglements brought about by our desire to protect the flow of oil from foreign fields to our fuel tanks.
But now the conversation has shifted. The conversation of imports is actually ramping up—though this time with oil by pipe from Canada rather than by ship from the Middle East. It sounds better than what we worried about before, but it still complicates the conversation, and now we’re talking about building more liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminals and allowing crude oil exports for the first time since the 1970s. We can boldly tell Europe that our LNG will solve their energy security problems too, as it will let them kick their expensive habit of mainlining Russian gas via stainless steel syringes that puncture right into the heart of Western European load centers like Berlin. So oil and gas enthusiasts are quick to point out that not only have we solved our energy problems, but we’re about to solve Europe’s security problems, too. While this thought is appealing, the fact is it remains just a pipedream—we still import about half the petroleum we consume and our natural gas exports are still a tiny fraction of our total production. That means this problem isn’t solved yet, and probably won’t be any time soon, if ever. If we start exporting large volumes of crude oil and natural gas to the world, then we are actually coupling ourselves more closely to the geopolitical volatility of global energy markets, rather than becoming more energy independent. We will still have national security implications from our energy decisions, we will just be on the other side of the equation.