This article is part of a series profiling members of SAFE’s Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC), a group of business and former military leaders committed to reducing the United States’ dependence on oil.
Admiral Dennis Blair served in the Navy until 2002 and was commander in chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific region. He also served in the White House during the Reagan administration and was appointed the Director of National Intelligence from 2009-10.
Admiral Blair, who was born in Maine and graduated from the Naval Academy in 1968, joined the ESLC more than a decade ago. During the Iraq War, he was motivated to take up the issue of energy security because of U.S. military operations leading to a large number of soldier casualties. “I realized that the war had a lot to do with our dependence on oil, and it wasn’t solving our long-term problem,” said Admiral Blair. “SAFE was the best organization to deal with this dependence.”
“The combination of the OPEC cartel restricting production and the rapidly expanding demand oil in places like India and China emphasized how economically vulnerable the United States is to higher oil prices.”
His motivation to work on finding solutions to oil dependence was further enhanced when the price spike of 2007-08 caused economic damage in the United States. The sharp rise in prices, which culminated in NYMEX WTI reaching $147 per barrel in July of 2008, was one factor that pushed the United States into recession. “The combination of the OPEC cartel restricting production and the rapidly expanding demand oil in places like India and China emphasized how economically vulnerable the United States is to higher oil prices,” said Blair.
Admiral Blair sees the current environment of relatively low prices as a time to take measures to significantly reduce petroleum demand by building the right infrastructure to electrify the car fleet. But he is worried that consumers and policymakers in the United States are too complacent. “Gas prices are down, and I fear that Americans think the problem has been solved,” said Admiral Blair.
He points to sharp rises in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and higher SUV sales as signs that Americans have short attention spans and have forgotten how dire the energy security situation was six to seven years ago, when prices were above $100 per barrel. In the past five years, as a result of lower prices, increased sales of SUVs, and economic growth, U.S. gasoline rose by more than seven percent and broke previous annual records.
Admiral Blair warns that despite the rapid growth in U.S. shale, oil prices situation could easily revert to triple-digits, not least of all because the a large portion of supply in the global market is controlled by state actors. Oil-producing countries, particularly Russia and those in OPEC, are more concerned with advancing their geopolitical interests than trading oil as a free-market commodity. “Oil producers want to keep prices high enough so that they can advance their agendas but low enough to undermine alternatives,” Admiral Blair said.
“Oil producers want to keep prices high enough so that they can advance their agendas but low enough to undermine alternatives.”
Although he was stationed in the Pacific, Admiral Blair watched his friends posted in the Middle East intervene to protect supply lanes in order to ensure the free flow of oil. He realized how much oil has complicated U.S. foreign policy in the region. “We could get a lot more sophisticated and rely less on heavy military involvement in how we approach the Middle East if we didn’t have to rely on it for oil,” he said.