In a rare burst of bipartisan consensus, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama have agreed on a dreadful proposal: Open more of America’s fragile coastlines to offshore oil drilling.
How is it awful? Let me count the ways.
1. It will do nothing for today’s or tomorrow’s pump prices. The U.S. Energy Department says it: Drilling in these previously banned offshore areas “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.”
The idea that extracting more oil in the United States would uniquely benefit American consumers is also nonsense. Oil gets poured into tankers and sold to the world’s highest bidders.
A Rasmussen Reports poll finds that more than two-thirds of voters want to allow this offshore exploitation. Nearly that many believe it will bring lower prices. Hence, two candidates who had sensibly opposed such drilling now talk it up.
2. It endangers some of America’s most treasured environments. There is a reason for the ban on offshore drilling. Nearly 40 years ago, an oil rig blowout near Santa Barbara, Calif., let loose a black tide of crude that killed 10,000 birds, choked marine plants and fouled gorgeous California beaches from Pismo to Oxnard. That traumatic event led to the end of oil exploration off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts.
3. Californians and Floridians detest the plan — or should. Real estate and tourism interests have joined environmentalists in opposing any move toward drilling along their oceanfronts. In much of California and Florida, real estate and tourism are the economy.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger immediately denounced the call to relax restrictions on offshore drilling, as have Florida’s two senators, Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Mel Martinez. Sadly, recent polls show residents in those states warming to the notion of offshore drilling. Someone should replay that ghastly news footage of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.
4. The embrace of new oil drilling ignores the threat of global warming. How odd that a dollar more at the pump has eclipsed the more cosmic concern that fossil-fuel use will transform Earth into a different planet, and one not necessarily to our liking.
Angst over climate change is clearly not the political fashion right now. But better to hold onto yesterday’s anxiety than to silently watch an environmental disaster unfold without challenge.
5. The drive to drill feeds into the public’s delusions. President Bush’s recent call for expanded offshore drilling coincided with some dips in the world oil price. This spurred some right-wing talkers to assert that one caused the other. Yeah, they said, the very prospect of American oilmen rolling up their sleeves and greasing the drills had scared down those oil prices.
In their dreams. A slowdown in oil consumption is what did it. That has happened before. When the per-barrel price of oil passed a shocking $35 in 1980, people everywhere throttled back on their energy use. By 1986, it had collapsed to under $14.
Reduced oil consumption — through conservation and development of alternative energy sources — is the way out of the current predicament. Someday, we’ll have lots of cheap, clean renewable energy, and who knows? Folks may be able to drive 18-wheelers to the office, if they so choose. That will take time, work and money.
Does the popular drive to expand offshore oil production serve any useful purpose? Sure. It inspires a fresh round of candidate flip-flops for the pundits to dissect in the slow days before the national conventions.
At the end of the day, none of this drilling will happen. Or so we can hope.
©2008 The Providence Journal Co.