The Fuse

Lessons from Kuwait: What Indianapolis is doing to end oil dependence

June 02, 2015

Guest Post by Gregory A. Ballard | @MayorBallard |

Gregory A. Ballard is a former Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Marine Corps and the former Republican Mayor of the City of Indianapolis.

In the summer of 1990, Iraq invaded and annexed the neighboring country of Kuwait. The reason, according to Iraq’s then-president Saddam Hussein, was that Kuwait’s oil industry had been stealing its crude oil reserves through a process known as slant drilling. After only two days, Kuwait had fallen to Hussein’s forces, prompting an international response that quickly became Operation Desert Storm.

I served as a United States Marine in the Gulf during this time of great unrest. Along with my fellow Marines, I witnessed oil’s enormous power over the interests of the countries involved in the war. I also knew oil played a role in the United States’ decision to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, restoring its sovereignty. Not a year before the Iraqi invasion, this tiny country of only 6,900 square miles was producing 1.87 million barrels of oil per day (mbd), nearly 3 percent of global production. Saddam Hussein saw an incentive—and found an excuse—to seize these significant oil resources. For the United States, however, there were economic, national security, and humanitarian reasons to protect Kuwait.

kuwait oil production

By March of 1991, coalition forces had rid Kuwait of Iraqi troops, and participants had reached a ceasefire. The war came to an end. But the events surrounding operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm fit into a much larger, and longer narrative of the story of oil—and our utmost reliance on it.

The United States military spends an estimated $83 billion every year to secure oil supply routes around the globe. We sacrifice blood and treasure to protect our vital interests—including oil from foreign sources. Oil comprises more than 35 percent of U.S. primary energy demand—more than any other single energy source—and as a result, our country is affected whenever the global flow of oil becomes threatened. This dependence skews our foreign policy priorities, and often forces us to unnecessarily risk American lives.

On the economic front, the global oil market can be extremely volatile, with prices that oscillate wildly based on global political events or unexpected outages in oil-producing countries. For American businesses heavily reliant on oil, this volatility can be more than a simple annoyance, instead injecting uncertainty into everyday decision making. For consumers and families, volatility makes it impossible to accurately budget for major household expenses, like how much it will cost to fill up the family vehicle on a monthly or weekly basis.

Estimated Oil Price Volatility: 2007-2015

oil price volatilityFor municipal motor fleets, like ours in Indianapolis, fuel costs run into the millions and are subject to oil price volatility the same way a family budget is. Add in the money to service and maintain a large pool of gasoline-powered vehicles, and the costs become even more significant.

In Indianapolis, we’ve decided to do something about our dependence on oil. We’ve set a goal to have our municipal fleet, with the exception of police pursuit vehicles, running petroleum-free by 2025. To kick off this initiative, I have launched the nation’s first-ever “Freedom Fleet,” replacing 525 of Indy’s administrative sedans with 425 plug-in electric vehicles.

Many of the new vehicles will be 100 percent electric, while those employees who need them will be able to take advantage of efficient plug-in hybrid cars. All told, the Freedom Fleet will generate savings of nearly $9 million for the city over the next 10 years, avoiding about 2.2 million gallons of gasoline—enough to send a car around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 16 million times.

The Freedom Fleet joins other Indy programs that are helping to shed the city’s oil dependence, including BlueIndy, an all-electric car sharing service that functions similarly to a traditional bike share program. Through these initiatives, it is our goal to serve as a model for other cities around the country. We are proud to be taking the lead as the first U.S. city ever to deploy an electric vehicle fleet of this size, and we hope others will follow Indy’s commitment to transition away from

Reducing our dependence on oil starts at home, and I am proud to say Indianapolis is setting the trend for cities to create and adopt their own strategies to cut loose from petroleum. The technology is here, the savings are clear, and the benefits for our national and economic security are easy to see. This is a defining moment for Indianapolis and for our country, and I hope others will join us in this great transformation.