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.
General James Conway served in the Marine Infantry for more than 40 years, and was confirmed as the 34th Commandant for the U.S. Marine Corps in 2006. Before he became Commandant, General Conway was assigned to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he supervised the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Conway served as a military adviser to the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the President.
General Conway, who was born in Arkansas and attended college in Missouri, joined SAFE’s ELSC at the recommendation of retired General P.X. Kelley, the co-founder of the ESLC along with FedEx CEO Fred Smith. General Conway’s background as a Marine motivated him to engage in the cause of oil dependence because of its negative effects on national security. He was reminded of President Eisenhower’s argument that increased reliance on crude oil imports can spur a national security crisis.
“At the time I joined the ESLC, we were importing 60 percent of our petroleum requirements, and we were more than 90 percent reliant on petroleum in transportation,” said General Conway. “Those statistics are compelling.”
“American ingenuity and American businesses are why our import dependence has fallen.”
General Conway is encouraged that the United States has been making significant progress on energy security matters, largely due to rapid technological innovations. “American ingenuity and American businesses are why our import dependence has fallen,” General Conway said.
He holds optimism that the domestic oil and gas industry will continue to increase production and weaken OPEC’s influence in the global oil markets.
At the same time, new technologies in the transportation sector are also an important part of the equation that makes General Conway hopeful for the future of U.S. energy security. “When you add autonomous vehicles to the picture, we can make our goal of reducing our transportation oil requirements by 50 percent by 2040,” he said.
“When you add autonomous vehicles to the picture, we can make our goal of reducing our transportation oil requirements by 50 percent by 2040.”
Even though the outlook has improved for U.S. energy security with higher domestic production and the promise of greater efficiency and fuel diversity through autonomy, General Conway worries that the country’s progress could easily be “disrupted” by international conflicts and turmoil in oil-producing nations. Global oil markets are vulnerable to geopolitical instability and unplanned supply outages, and U.S. consumers are still not insulated from supply disruptions and price spikes despite the rapid rise in shale oil production.
“I see a positive horizon in petroleum issues, but global events could change all of that.”
There is currently a long list of countries whose barrels are at risk. They include but are not limited to Iraq, Venezuela, Libya, Nigeria, and Iran. On top of worries about disruptions, General Conway pointed out, major producers such as Saudi Arabia and Russia are using their clout in the international market to restrict supply to increase prices. And besides uncertainties surrounding oil-producing countries, increased tensions in places such as Turkey, Syria, and North Korea could also rattle global markets and cause prices to spike.
“The global economy is growing, and oil will likely remain cheap,” General Conway said, “I see a positive horizon in petroleum issues, but global events could change all of that.”