In the People's Interest

Karin Kirk on Powering Montana for US Energy Independence

Amid war in Ukraine, energy issues are making lots of headlines. In the midst of a confusing situation, it’s worth setting aside political talking points and looking at how Montana can help solve our current energy challenge.

The world needs to stop using Russian oil and natural gas as swiftly as possible. For the U.S., this isn’t a huge challenge because we don’t import much oil from Russia. But the oil industry won’t tell you that. They’re using the situation to try to get more pipelines and new tracts of public land to drill. But here’s the great news: None of that is needed to solve this problem.

The U.S. currently imports around 500,000 barrels of Russian crude oil and petroleum products each day. That may sound like a lot, but we consume over 20 million barrels per day. Russian oil is only 2.4% of what we use, and we have lots of options to make up the difference.

Thankfully, we don’t need a new pipeline or any new drilling to replace Russian imports. For one, if Americans improved the fuel economy of our vehicles by only 1 mile per gallon, we would save more oil than we buy from Russia, and we’d save money every time we drive. Or we can switch fuels, and drive with electricity rather than oil. Montana can play a key role here because we sit beneath an enormous wind resource that remains largely untapped.

Montana has huge potential to generate electricity, and we have a transmission line to the west coast, where electric vehicles are popular. Montana could strengthen our national security by building safe and local energy generation to replace imported oil — and this would be especially helpful given our electrical connection to the west coast. But instead, we’re near the bottom third of all U.S. states for using our wind potential. We rank 48th in the number of wind jobs.

It’s sad to see Montana’s resources go untapped, especially when we have loads of secure, domestic energy that’s urgently needed. It’s even sadder to see our politicians promote Canadian oil sands, while ignoring Montana’s energy potential. Senator Daines and Rep. Rosendale both voted against investment in American renewable energy, even though Montana could easily be a national leader in cleaner energy. We need real leadership to get there, not just oil industry talking points that don’t even acknowledge the powerful role of renewable energy in securing America’s energy supply.

The high price of oil is an oft-touted rationale to increase Canadian imports or open more U.S. drilling. But that doesn’t make sense. Oil prices are determined by the global market, so even if we produced more of our own oil, we would still pay high prices for it. The amount of oil we’d add to the overall supply is too small to affect global pricing. But electricity is different. We control the price of electricity in Montana, and it’s not subject to the whims of Russia or OPEC. Using electricity instead of oil makes driving cheaper, with a stable price.

As we watch excruciating hardship unfold in Ukraine, and cheer alongside the people of Ukraine for each small victory, we’re reminded what it feels like to be united – there’s a hopeful sense of purpose when pulling our oars together for something bigger than ourselves.

Montanans have an impressive history of rallying together. We’re blessed with an abundant resource that can serve a patriotic cause. Let’s get to work in replacing Russian oil with Montana wind.

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