Even with the promising news that the United States has hit a 20-year low in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, the U.S. still has a long way to go before achieving energy independence.

Last week, the New York Times reported we have been increasingly reliant on Saudi Arabian oil, importing 20 percent more this year than during the same period in 2011. While the U.S. imported an average of 1.15 million barrels of crude from Saudi Arabia in the first five months of 2011, that number has jumped to 1.45 million during the same period in 2012. Though the U.S. had been decreasing its dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf, this policy changed last summer, partly driven by America’s battle with Iran over its nuclear program.

The sanctions on Iran have hurt its ability to sell crude, so Saudi Arabia agreed to step in and increase production to keep the oil process stable. While the plan has worked in the sense that prices have not skyrocketed, it has left the U.S. more entangled in this volatile part of the world.

Perhaps compared to Syria or Iran, Saudi Arabia seems like a relatively stable business partner, but it is also growing increasingly vulnerable to local strife, making it more dangerous to become reliant on the country. Both liberal and conservative politicos are wary of this dependence.

Michael Makovsky, a former Department of Defense official who worked with the George W. Bush administration said: “At a time when there is a rising chance of either a nuclear Iran or an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, we should be trying to reduce our reliance on oil going through the Strait of Hormuz and not increasing it.”

The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow passage through which most of the Gulf’s oil and other exports travel. Though Iranian threats to close it are mostly viewed as a bluff, the U.S. Navy is still preparing for the possibility.

Obama officials largely brushed off the increase in imports saying that in a crisis, the U.S. could use its strategic petroleum reserves, along with the fact that domestic production is increasing, and Gulf of Mexico refineries could adapt to different kinds of oil if the U.S. needed to switch its supplier.

While that might sound reassuring to some, the U.S. needs to put itself into overdrive to find renewable, sustainable and lasting energy solutions that do not involve fossil fuels of any kind.

Image of Saudi Arabian flag via Public Domain Image