Energy security is one of the major policy issues facing the United States. The debate in this country, however, has been framed solely in terms of whether the United States has adequate supplies of reliable and affordable energy to meet its substantial needs. While certainly a component of energy security in its narrowest sense, it really misstates the issue, making it difficult, if not impossible, for the achievement of real energy security. Unfortunately, the United States is missing the opportunity of gaining a more integrated, robust and durable energy security not only for itself, but also the entire hemisphere, and, more generally, the world as a whole.
In our fast-changing and ever-smaller world, it must be recognized that there needs to be reasonable and affordable availability of energy for all poor and developing countries that otherwise lack adequate energy supplies, the sine qua non for sustainable social and economic development. With economic development comes upward mobility and social stability, both of which are the foundations for true security for all nations, not just a select few. The extreme asymmetries that have for far too long characterized access to energy by rich countries compared to poor countries must be eliminated.
In the Western Hemisphere, for example, the consumption gap is enormous. The United States, comprising a third of the hemisphere’s population, accounts for more than 70 percent of all the energy consumed in the hemisphere. U.S. needs cannot be at the expense of other countries. There really is no choice.
In Venezuela, the government of President Hugo Chavez, with its vast oil resources, is addressing this problem. Venezuela is meeting U.S. energy needs, through the supply of crude oil and refined products and through socially-oriented initiatives such as the discounted heating oil program for low-income U.S. families, and helping our own people and other Latin countries. Yet, it is roundly condemned by the U.S. administration for doing so.
It is vitally important to understand the capabilities of Venezuela that permit us to be able to do so. After official certification is completed, which is well under way, Venezuela’s official reserves will total 316 billion barrels, making us the holder of the largest oil reserves in the world, surpassing even Saudi Arabia. Our national oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), will spend a total of $120 billion in capital and operating expenses over the next six years. By 2012, crude oil production in Venezuela will increase to 5.8 million barrels per day. Moreover, sooner than people think, there will only be a handful of countries that will be net exporters of oil, and Venezuela, only four to five days’ shipping time from the United States, as opposed to 40 days for oil from the Mideast, will be one of them.
Within the next six years, Venezuela also will expand its worldwide refining capacity to 4.1 million barrels per day. Currently, Venezuela is ultimately responsible for the refining of 3.3 million barrels per day through 24 refineries worldwide, of which six are located in the United States as part of PDVSA’s wholly owned U.S. subsidiary, CITGO Petroleum Corp. By 2012, PDVSA will build three new grassroots refineries in Venezuela, one in Brazil in partnership with Petrobras, the Brazilian national oil company, and undertake the expansions of three existing refineries in Uruguay and the Caribbean.
Venezuela’s capabilities in energy are far beyond any other country in the hemisphere and rivals those of any country in the world. But Venezuela and PDVSA also realize that the benefits associated with the natural resources of the developing world can no longer flow in only one direction. We are committed to putting our oil revenues to work for all of our people. We are realistically, and systematically, tackling the problems of our country and other Latin American countries, in which economic inequalities have long been the dominant and heartbreaking aspect of society. PDVSA is directly spending billions of dollars to fund sorely needed education, medical and poverty-reduction programs throughout Venezuela and Latin America.
Beyond our borders, as part of the effort to eliminate the devastating impact of the asymmetries of energy consumption in our hemisphere, Venezuela has been a leader in creating a program for Caribbean nations, among the poorest in the world, known as Petrocaribe. Through this program, Venezuela is providing these countries affordable oil at market prices through the use of generous financing terms and helping these countries to upgrade their energy supply and distribution infrastructures.
Venezuela is also fostering greater integration among all Latin American countries to meet the energy needs of the region. Low-cost oil supplies are being provided to the continent through programs such as Petroandina and Petrosur. In addition, plans have been initiated to construct a 6,200-mile natural gas pipeline from Venezuela all the way to Argentina and to integrate already existing pipelines throughout South America to make the region more self-reliant and environmentally friendly and to permit our countries to work more closely together.
The United States can continue to look only inward in a self-defeating effort to achieve a chimerical “energy security.” Or, it can rethink its foreign policy with respect to Latin America. It is a fool’s errand for the United States to try to gain “energy independence” for itself. Simply put, it is impossible. Energy independence within the hemisphere can be achieved, however.
Instead of heaping condemnation on us for our vision of what constitutes true energy security for all countries, including the United States, and the means to achieve it, the United States should heed our call to engage in dialogue with us on the basis of mutual respect between sovereign nations.
Venezuela’s right to manage its nonrenewable energy resources in ways that provide maximum benefit to its people and the people of the hemisphere, in accordance with the will and dignity of our citizenry, is fundamental. We would welcome the United States’ acknowledgement of this right, and we invite it to work with us in a spirit of true comity in this vital endeavor.
Alvarez is ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in the United States.