Monday, June 23, 2008

Drill Now, Drill Often, Drill Everywhere

It's becoming increasingly obvious that the new Republican answer to every national energy challenge is to drill for oil - drill now, drill often, and drill everywhere. But regardless of how many times they say it, and regardless of how hard they try to play the role of conscientious public servants, it simply doesn't work. They're seen in the role they really play - that of shameless political panderers - who grasp for the easy policy one-liner if it has a nice ring to it. I guess it doesn't matter that the policy doesn't make sense and would ultimately enrich oil companies much more than it would ever provide relief to taxpayers at the gas pump. But yes, the policy of off-shore drilling is bad. The Times elaborates:

It was almost inevitable that a combination of $4-a-gallon gas, public anxiety and politicians eager to win votes or repair legacies would produce political pandering on an epic scale. So it has, the latest instance being President Bush’s decision to ask Congress to end the federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling along much of America’s continental shelf. This is worse than a dumb idea. It is cruelly misleading. It will make only a modest difference, at best, to prices at the pump, and even then the benefits will be years away. It greatly exaggerates America’s leverage over world oil prices. It is based on dubious statistics. It diverts the public from the tough decisions that need to be made about conservation.

There is no doubt that a lot of people have been discomfited and genuinely hurt by $4-a-gallon gas. But their suffering will not be relieved by drilling in restricted areas off the coasts of New Jersey or Virginia or California. The Energy Information Administration says that even if both coasts were opened, prices would not begin to drop until 2030. The only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land before their friends in power - Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney - exit the political stage.

The whole scheme is based on a series of fictions that range from the egregious to the merely annoying. Democratic majority leader, Senator Harry Reid, noted the worst of these on Wednesday: That a country that consumes one-quarter of the world’s oil supply but owns only 3 percent of its reserves can drill its way out of any problem - whether it be high prices at the pump or dependence on oil exported by unstable countries in Persian Gulf. This fiction has been resisted by Barack Obama but foolishly embraced by John McCain, who seemed to be making some sense on energy questions until he jumped aboard the lift-the-ban bandwagon on Tuesday.

A lesser fiction, perpetrated by the oil companies and, to some extent, by misleading government figures, is that huge deposits of oil and gas on federal land have been closed off and industry has had one hand tied behind its back by environmentalists, Democrats and the offshore protections in place for 25 years. The numbers suggest otherwise. Of the 36 billion barrels of oil believed to lie on federal land, mainly in the Rocky Mountain West and Alaska, almost two-thirds are accessible or will be after various land-use and environmental reviews. And of the 89 billion barrels of recoverable oil believed to lie offshore, the federal Mineral Management Service says fourth-fifths is open to industry, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaskan waters.

Clearly, the oil companies are not starved for resources. Further, they do not seem to be doing nearly as much as they could with the land to which they’ve already laid claim. Separate studies by the House Committee on Natural Resources and the Wilderness Society, a conservation group, show that roughly three-quarters of the 90 million-plus acres of federal land being leased by the oil companies onshore and off are not being used to produce energy. That is 68 million acres altogether, among them potentially highly productive leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

Meanwhile, Gail Collins explores John McCain’s odd reversal on the issue (the latest development in his de-Maverickation), the continued blurring of Bush and McCain, and what is becoming McCain's increasingly disastrous and unfocused energy “policy”.

Bush wants to search for oil offshore, out West, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in the basement, beneath the Washington Monument - you name it, he’s ready to drill. This would require a great deal of excruciatingly controversial legislation, all of which he demanded the Democrats in Congress pass before the Fourth of July recess. Otherwise, everything is their fault… The Rose Garden event was peculiar, and only partly because the chief executive of the United States suddenly announced that Congress has two weeks to reverse an offshore drilling policy that it has had in place since 1981.

There was also the matter of John McCain. Poor McCain has been trying desperately to convince the public that there’s a vast, vast gulf between him and the current administration. It’s been tougher than he expected. In the past, McCain parted company with Bush on everything from torture to taxes. But now he’s fudged some of those differences, and completely caved on others... Earlier this week, McCain made news when, in a change of position, he called for allowing more offshore drilling. It was his moment to betray the environmentalists in the name of cheaper gasoline. You’d think the president would have the decency to wait, and refrain from holding a press conference that made the two of them sound like soul mates.

First, there was that extremely cheesy idea of a federal gas-tax holiday. It was dead on arrival the day he proposed it. Besides, any position that leaves you lashing out at “so-called economists” is not going to instill a deep sense of confidence in the voting public. The way he’s been working the energy issue only makes him look like a man with no inner core. For instance, the guy who was speaking in Houston this week was considerably different from the one who did a town-hall meeting in New York last week.

The New York McCain laced into oil companies for their “obscene” profits and their failure to invest in alternative sources of energy. “I think it’s an abrogation of their responsibility as citizens,” he said, assuring the audience he was “very angry with oil companies.” The Houston McCain seemed to have gotten over his wrath, and contented himself with lacing into Obama’s plan for a windfall-profits tax on oil companies. It would, he said, discourage oil exploration.

At the state level, the fall-out in Florida continues and the back and forth between members of the delegation is getting more and more entertaining.

In the wake of the endorsement by Bush, McCain and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist - all three of whom previously supported the ban - a number of congressional Republicans, including Florida Reps. Ander Crenshaw and Connie Mack, have dropped their prior opposition and embraced offshore drilling as a way out of the gas crisis.

…The nine Democrats in the Florida delegation issued a joint statement Wednesday afternoon dismissing calls for offshore drilling as “a political gimmick that will not lower gas prices for consumers but could have real and tragic consequences for Florida’s economy and natural environment.”

“While President Bush, Sen. McCain, Big Oil and perhaps even our governor are willing to put Florida’s vital tourism and fishing economies at risk for a small amount of oil and gas, we are not willing to do so,” the Florida Democrats said. “We cannot sacrifice Florida’s billion-dollar tourism and fishing industries, our beaches, coastal environment and marine resources due to the administration’s wholesale failure to produce sound energy policy.”

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