Those who were around for the Republican Convention in September 2008 will recall some of its more interesting highlights. First there was the electrifying acceptance speech by the then politically unknown Sarah Palin. Then there was the feisty, no holds barred address by Rudi Guiliani (remember “Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy?”)
But by far the most interesting attraction of that convention for me was the sound of the convention members themselves roaring, ” drill, baby, drill,” grafting an awkward sexual innuendo onto an otherwise staid policy platform.
It was of course believed back then that Democrats were perennially and viciously opposed to any off -shore drilling and that the efforts for developing the vast stores of oil wealth lying beneath the continental shelfs of California, Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico would be stymied by Democrats for years into the future.
Hence the rather suggestive Republican mantra.
So you can imagine the surprise of many Democrats when Barack Obama announced on March 31 that a 20 year old federal moratorium that has limited drilling along coastal areas other than the Gulf of Mexico would be lifted. The new plan, announced by the Secretary of the Interior, allows new oil drilling off Virginia’s shoreline and considers it for a large chunk of the Atlantic seaboard as well.
In addition, the Interior Department will forge ahead with drilling platforms in the eastern Gulf of Mexico if Congress allows that moratorium to expire. It will also allow exploration along the south Atlantic and mid- Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf “to support energy planning” — a step toward potential leasing.
Environmentalists, as you might expect, are writhing in apoplexy about this assault on a long held liberal orthodoxy.
David Helvrag, the President of the environmental group Blue Marine Foundation opined in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday:
” Offshore drilling has done little to wean us from Middle Eastern oil. And with less than 5% of our domestic oil located offshore, more ocean drilling won’t help now either. The only real way to quit relying on foreign oil is to wean ourselves from oil, and that’s something our leaders are unlikely to fully embrace until we’ve tapped that last reserve of sweet crude.”
Ah, there it is – the standard trope of the NOAAC ( No Oil At Any Cost) crowd – that only the elimination of fossil fuels as an energy source will relieve us of that triple headed monster – our dependence on Middle East oil, the pollution of our oceans and the perils of global warming.
It is a neat cure all, but like many simple minded solutions, almost totally falacious.
The United States is presently importing 70 percent of the oil we use at a cost of about $700 billion per year paid to foreign countries, some of which could be secretly pledged to our destruction .
To get an idea of what we are losing daily in not developing our own extraordinary off shore resources try and swallow these statistics: We pay $50 million every day to Russia, $109 million to Saudi Arabia and $150 million to Venezuela.
At this rate, that kind of wealth transfer will give our enemies the financial clout, in only five years, to finance the take over of the combined $18 trillion worth of the Fortune 500.
This is when we possess an estimated worth of $60 trillion in off shore oil and natural gas deposits that our moratoria, until now at least, will not allow us to touch.
Would all this be enough to wean us off our foreign oil dependency? Not immediately perhaps. But it might offer something even better – a level of domestic competitiveness that will drive the OPEC controlled price of foreign oil down.
Also forgotten, is that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s oil deposits contain one of the greatest areas for drilling in the world with an estimated 60 billion barrels of oil buried beneath its surface. Those who think that oil production will ruin a pristine natural environment there simply don’t know the facts. For the area sought to be drilled is only a 2,000 square area adjacent to the coast, which occupies just 2% of the total area of the ANWR. Nor is it a true wildlife habitat or a pristine forested areas at all, but barren, windswept tundra.
The argument that oil development will lead to the despoliation of the environment is also mostly nonsense. Oil exploration and extraction has advanced to such a high level of sophistication in the past forty years that drilling can now be conducted sideways without huge rigs blotting the seascape. Intensive safety procedures have ensured that there has not been even one serious incident of spillage from an oil well (even during the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina) in the past forty years.
As for global warming, we are still years away from the cost efficient development of bio-fuels that could replace fossil fuels. This was implicitly recognized by the President when he suggested that the granting of leases for off shore oil exploration was a” temporary measure” to help the nation through a period where alternative sources of energy can be developed and be made more widely available.
The embrace of this reality, together with the administration’s advancement of nuclear power as a safe, clean and cheap source of energy for America’s needs, is a welcome sign of sanity among Democrats.
But that probably won’t prevent the certain flood of law suits soon coming the president’s way. They will arrive because environmentalists still act as if the Santa Barbara oil spill, which catalyzed the movement for bans on off shore drilling, occurred only last week. In fact it occurred in January, 1969 and since then oil drilling has become inordinately safer, more exact and less expensive.
And while we have been twiddling our thumbs the rest of the world has shown no embarrassment whatsoever about developing newly discovered off shore oil deposits. Brazil has displayed few qualms about seeking to develop recently discovered off shore oil fields near Rio De Janiero. Russia and Britain have not been stymied by a litigious environmental movement in developing the North Sea. Nor, for that matter, have China and Japan, who have recently entered into a joint project to develop vast natural gas deposits in the Sea of Japan.
With such facts populating our calculations of the American future, how can anyone sensibly argue that the movement to restore off shore drilling is just a Republican fillip to its oil industry paramours.
It all reminds me of a story told about the late Ted Kennedy who, in the early 90s, was photographed in a compromising position on a speedboat with a naked 22-year-old companion. Widely distributed and reported on, an embarrassed Kennedy was approached by Alabama Democratic Senator Howell Heflin who chortled: “Well I do believe the Senator from Massachusetts has changed his position on offshore drillin’!”
That is a joke, I suppose, that Democrats and Republicans can both now appreciate.