Without Russian oil, the U.S. needs more energy — the question, Yale professors said, is from where.
On Tuesday, President Joe Biden issued an executive order banning Russian oil and gas imports to the United States in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The ban comes amid record gas prices in the U.S. — as of Thursday, the average gallon of gasoline costs $4.32. In response to these record prices, senators such as Lisa Murkowski (R-Ark.) have called for the U.S. to expand domestic oil production, while senators like Ed Markey (D-Mass.) have advocated for the U.S. to invest in clean energy technologies.
The News spoke to five Yale professors and lecturers who had split opinions as to whether the ban could create a shift toward cleaner energy. Several said that the U.S. seemed likely to ramp up domestic oil production in response. But one professor noted that the ban showed the economy’s vulnerability because of its reliance on fossil fuels, and demonstrated the importance of converting to renewable energy.
“One could imagine a ban that accelerated a transition to greater reliance on renewables, but I don’t think this order will have such an effect,” Kenneth Scheve, professor of political science and global affairs, wrote to the News. “In the short to medium term, the administration will be under intense political pressure to replace Russian oil with oil from other sources including expanding U.S. production.”
Before the executive order, Russian exports made up eight percent of U.S. crude oil and fuel. The ban may prove a greater blow to Russia’s economy than previous economic sanctions but is also expected to be costly to the U.S. and other countries, according to Scheve. As of March 10, 2022, gasoline prices in the U.S. have reached their highest recorded average price.
Matthew Kotchen, a Yale economics professor, told the News that as the Russian ban increases the price of oil, there may be a new incentive to move to other sources of energy. But it is also likely that the U.S. chooses to rely more on domestic oil rather than renewable sources of energy, he said.
“The more likely result in the short term is just going to be an increase in production of oil and petroleum products from within the U.S.,” Kotchen said. “In the long run … there may be an increasing national security rationale for more domestic sources of oil or for renewable sources of energy.”
Unlike increasing domestic oil production, transitioning to renewable energy sources would require a change of policy, Kotchen noted.
According to Jennifer Skene, an environmental advocate and lecturer at Yale Law school, the United States has the capacity to respond to extreme events. The ability to make significant economic changes quickly was made clear by the recent divestments from the Russian economy, especially the Russian fuel economy. However, whether this capacity will be targeted towards addressing climate change remains unclear, according to Skene.
“[The Russian invasion of Ukraine] highlights the need to be getting off oil and gas entirely and transitioning to renewables,” says Skene. “What has been alarming is that this has turned less into a ‘let’s get off oil and gas entirely’ discussion into ‘let’s get off Russian oil and gas and ramp up production elsewhere.’”
Kenneth Gillingham, professor of environmental and energy economics, told the News that it seems infeasible to completely replace Russian oil with domestic oil, as Russia is the third-largest oil producer in the world, and the U.S. only has a limited amount of oil supplies. The government has released 30 million barrels of oil from its Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserve, but Gillingham sees this amount as a “drop in the bucket in the global market.” In 2020, the world consumed 88.5 million barrels of oil each day.
Gillingham described the decision of whether to rely on renewable energy or domestic oil as a “messaging battle” between people interested in expanding the fossil fuel sector and people interested in promoting renewable energy.
He added that he sees this as a “clean energy moment,” as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made it clear that the economy is “vulnerable” because of its heavy reliance on fossil fuels.
“I see it as an opportunity to remind people, let’s make this shift,” Gillingham said. “It is not feasible to replace Russian oil on the global market by increasing the domestic supply of oil, creating an incentive to look for other sources of energy.”
Seventy-nine percent of Americans said they supported a ban on Russian oil imports even if they caused increased energy prices in the U.S, according to a recent Wall Street Journal Poll.