We Can't Drill our Way out of the Energy Crisis

In 1990, the first Bush Administration banned off shore oil exploration and yesterday the current President Bush decided to ask Congress to end the ban. This is the same policy now being pushed by Senator John McCain in his effort to show he cares about rising gasoline prices. According to Sheryl Stolberg in The New York Times on June 18:

The Congressional moratorium was first enacted in 1982, and has been renewed every year since. It prohibits oil and gas leasing on most of the outer continental shelf, 3 miles to 200 miles offshore. Since 1990, it has been supplemented by the first President Bush’s executive order, which directed the Interior Department not to conduct offshore leasing or preleasing activity in areas covered by the legislative ban until 2000. In 1998, President Bill Clinton extended the offshore leasing prohibition until 2012. One person familiar with the deliberations inside the White House said that Mr. Bush was briefed on Tuesday by his top aides, including Joshua B. Bolten, the chief of staff, and that the aides recommended lifting the executive order.

This is more of the same short-sighted energy industry dominated nonsense that we have come to know and love from the crowd that’s been running the nation’s capital for the last seven plus years. It’s true that there is a lot of oil under the coasts—maybe 16 billion barrels. But it’s also true that there are a lot of new drivers in China and India and more to come in the rest of the developing world. A little more oil may moderate the price of gasoline for a while, but the only real public policy that will cut fuel prices is to develop a car that uses a renewable and non-fossil fuel. Fuel prices would also be moderated if we could reduce our federal deficit a bit and improve the value of the dollar.

While I’ve come to expect this kind of nonsense from President Bush and Vice President Cheney, I am disappointed to see it coming from Senator McCain, who really should know better. Bush and Cheney have already demonstrated that they are a wholly owned subsidiary of the oil industry. That industry is convinced that we can drill our way out of this energy crisis. We can’t. The royal families in the Middle East’s oil countries get the idea that while modern economies require more and more energy, the combination of climate change and finite fossil fuels means that we have an urgent need to develop energy alternatives. They are investing heavily in solar research. It’s not as if we will ever stop pumping and burning oil. The market for petroleum will not disappear when we come up with alternatives. Even if oil is used less as a fuel, it’s value as a feedstock for plastic will continue.

I’ve often thought that the generations to come will wonder why we were so stupid that we burned all of that petroleum instead of using it as a material in consumer products and construction. While no one should be concerned about the future of the petroleum producers, if these companies want to stay in the energy industry they should be thinking about taking some of their huge profits and investing it in developing better solar power collectors and batteries.

Given the stock-market driven pressure to increase profits in the present, I am not surprised that the oil industry is looking for the short-run pay off of increased drilling in fragile environments. However our government’s leaders should know better. It’s their job to protect us and that includes keeping our coastlines clean and our planet from overheating. It’s true that gasoline prices have risen dramatically and people are suffering. Political candidates are under pressure to “do something”. The something to be done is to provide a tax rebate or credit to low income people who rely on their automobile to get to work or school. Let’s help the people who need the help instead of pandering to wealthy people who can afford market rates for gasoline. Drilling for coastal oil and ending gasoline taxes are short-sighted and foolish public policies. They do little to solve our energy problem and will make the climate crisis worse. John Mc Cain’s political prospects are not enhanced by his support of these short-run, anti-environmental fixes. The American people know the fundamental facts about energy and climate and don’t trust politicians that pander to them. It’s time for a little straight talk from the Senator from Arizona.