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'Drill Baby Drill' Is No Energy Answer

Posted on the 24 August 2011 by ---

'Drill Baby Drill' Is No Energy Answer

A recent oil spill in Montana reminds us of the fuel's hazards.

While I was in the hospital last week, I saw quite a bit of CNN.  It was a merry-go-round of 2012 coverage, filled with analyses of statements by those such as Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry.  One of the more eyebrow-raising quotes was Bachmann's promise to bring gas back under $2 per gallon if elected President.  It would be easy to have a mean-spirited field day about the naivete of her proclamation, but I'll leave it at this.  Here are the measures Bachmann advocates to solve the problem of expensive gas:
  • Almost complete deregulation of the oil and gas industry
  • Elimination of vehicle fuel efficiency standards (and most other energy efficiency standards)
  • Drilling offshore
  • Drilling in the Arctic wildlife refuge
  • Extraction of oil from Utahn tar sands
  • Hydraulic fracturing ('fracking') in Appalachian mountains
Altogether, the analysts on CNN agreed that these would lower the price of gasoline by a small amount, probably less than 10 cents per gallon.  Beginning expansive new extraction programs will increase domestic supply, but not at a rate fast enough to make such an immediate, drastic impact on gas prices.  And in the long run, increased demand brought on by the elimination of auto industry gas mileage benchmarks absorbs most of the potential price decreases.  This is all assuming that the global markets retain a constant level of production and stability.  They won't.  There will  be speculation; there will be unrest.  The result is a situation where it is well beyond the power of any President to control the price of gas without implementing a planned economy (which I suspect Michele Bachmann would be loathe to do).
In fact, one of the surest things any US leader can do to lower gas prices is to keep the pressure on Detroit to make progressively cleaner, more efficient cars.  The regulations that do this aren't particularly business stifling, nor do they come with an extensive bureaucracy or a 'czar.'  They're just common-sense solutions to chip away at a difficult problem.  On the other hand, we can increase production, which isn't a terrible idea.  However, it is something that needs to be done carefully.  The potential environmental effects of processes like fracking are disturbing at best and flat-out alarming at worst.
Which reminds me: next up on CNN were the advertisements.  A calm, confident scientist from Exxon Mobil reassured me that fracking was safe.  The rationale?  It happens so deep underground and behind so much protective machinery.  For some reason, the ad didn't convince me that the NPR reports of heavy metals and toxic chemicals in rural Pennsylvania drinking water I had heard the week before were any less real.  But before I could catch my breath, here was another commercial.  The man now explained how getting oil from tar sands would help America create "thousands of jobs."  Behind, a woman in a lab coat separated sand from crude in a graduated cylinder.  It was a little misleading, to say the least.
Anyway, I'm worried about the shift in our national energy narrative.  Drilling more should be considered, but not recklessly worshiped as a final solution to our nation's energy needs.  We're going to need to reduce consumption, and we're going to need to work towards a day when the price of gas is irrelevant.  That's what I'd like to hear more of in this ongoing dialogue.

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