Energy independence — it has become the buzzword for the 2008 presidential election.  We want to move away from Middle East oil, at the very least, in order to keep from being held as economic hostages by hostile governments in the region.  We can avoid that by increasing importation from Canada, whose tar sands in Alberta have deep reserves that our friends would like to sell to us.  Problem solved, right?

Wrong:

Quick — what country has the world’s largest oil reserves? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Nigeria? Venezuela? Wrong on all counts. The answer is Canada. And our neighbor to the north is worried we don’t want it.

Canada has an estimated 1.6 trillion barrels of oil on its territory, much of it locked in tough-to-excavate tar sands in the province of Alberta. By comparison, oil-rich Saudi Arabia has an estimated 270 billion barrels left. It isn’t even close.

Yet, according to the Financial Times of London, Canada’s government recently sent U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates a letter of warning that it might not be able to sell the U.S. any of its oil, which the Pentagon desperately needs for national defense.

For that, you can thank the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, passed with great gusto and self-righteousness by the Democratic Congress.

The bill classified oil from tar sands as an alternative fuel, which places restrictions on its use.  Unlike regular crude, the US government cannot buy alternative fuels unless they release less greenhouse gas.  The tar-sands crude unfortunately doesn’t qualify, and it’s not even close; it produces much more of those emissions than regular crude.

The Canadians, needless to say, are nonplussed over this action by Congressional Democrats.  They want to sell us the crude, and our armed services could certainly use a reliable source of energy not dependent on mullahcracies and kleptocracies.   However, even though we already have reliable and friendly trade with Canada on oil for commercial purposes from these tar sands, the US military will take a pass and stick with the Nigerians, Venezuelans, and Saudis.

Does that make any sense at all?

Canada will find buyers for its Alberta tar-sands product.  American energy companies have already signed up for sales and development, of course, but that’s not where the big sales will go.  The Chinese, who are much less picky about where they get the energy supplies for its military, will almost certainly leap at the chance to get in line ahead of the US for the product.

It’s precisely this lack of strategic long-term thinking that makes people nervous about putting Democratic leadership in Congress together with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the White House.  Congress needs to revisit these restrictions ASAP.