[A DOSE OF COMMON SENSE] We Might Have to Drill, Baby

I recently saw a T-Shirt sporting the British Petroleum (BP) Logo along with the slogan ‘Bringing Oil To American Shores.’ It’s easy to poke fun at BP lately. After all, they’ve had one hell of a second quarter. Money just can’t buy that kind of publicity. Throughout this whole fiasco, it’s become pretty clear that if we didn’t have two camps of opinion concerning US energy policy before the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill, we certainly do now.

There are those who say the events in the Gulf highlighted the risks that have always been there; that it was only a matter of time and that there is no sane reason to continue reckless energy expansion — a sort of “we told you so” that many say will effectively end any expanded offshore drilling in the US for the foreseeable future.

There are also those who say that, despite the risks, we need to drill offshore now more than ever. The spill only underscored our reliance on petroleum and the need to supply more of our own. In fact, a recent CNBC poll reported that 53% still support offshore drilling despite the environmental risks (41% opposed).

I say that if the events in the Gulf have polarized your point-of-view on US energy consumption, then you’re missing the point. I contend that it has only shown a spotlight on the need for a constructive, long-overdue energy debate in this country. Avoiding that conversation isn’t going to get us anywhere.

Sure, the spill has been a horrific event and has certainly been complicated by BP’s “we’re fine, let us take care of it” response. But if we write off this disaster as a reason to halt offshore drilling, then we’re severely limiting our options and perhaps crippling our economic future.

The point is that our nation has to have a dialogue we’ve been avoiding since the 1970’s. With all the bickering between environmental groups and Big Oil, coupled with the complacency of the American voter, we have a good shot at avoiding the conversation this time too. We do so at our own peril. That’s sad, because it’s a serious conversation we simply have to have if our petroleum-based economy is going to successfully transition through the 21st century.

I don’t like the images of oil-soaked birds any more than the next guy, but the reality is that our way of life is too dependent on petroleum right now to simply write-off expanded offshore drilling over the next few decades. And the implications of our oil dependence only highlight our need to change our approach over the long haul.

  • Fact: The United States uses more energy than any other nation on the face of the earth. In fact, we consume 23% of the world’s annual petroleum output despite having only 4.8% of the world’s population. That doesn’t make petroleum bad or America bad. It’s just not plausibly sustainable, that’s all.
  • Fact: 37% of America’s energy usage comes from petroleum; 57% of that is purchased from abroad. We are heavily reliant on foreign oil, and therefore our economic stability is exposed to world events which, by most accounts, have grown a bit trickier as of late.
  • Fact: The supply of oil will be exceeded by the demand for it. The most aggressive estimates point to demand exceeding supply as soon as 2014. Rapidly emerging economies like China and India (whose demand for oil continues to grow at an astonishing rate) mean that top oil producing nations like Iran, Russia, and Venezuela (countries not exactly at the top of our “friends” list) have their pick of customers. Oil is leverage. And it’s a commodity that’s getting more and more expensive to buy and to protect (e.g., Iraq).
  • Fact: I haven’t even touched on the current and future economic impacts of global warming.

The Economist recently captured our predicament as poignantly as anyone else as of late. “However you measure the full cost of a gallon of gas, pollution and all, Americans are nowhere close to paying it. Indeed their whole energy industry – from subsidies for corn ethanol to limited liability for nuclear power – is a slick of preferences and restrictions, without peer. The tinkering that will follow this spill will merely further complicate it.”

It’s easy to choose sides and duke it out. Americans have become good at partisanship, but dismal at solutions. What’s hard is to face up to reality and get down to the business of some intelligent discussion and decisions about America‘s energy future, political affiliations and campaign contributions be damned.

We don’t have the luxury of not drilling offshore because we’ve got “a bad feeling about that” after witnessing events unfold in the Gulf. Banning offshore drilling just means we’ll be buying it elsewhere, funding governments we don’t trust while further delaying our transition to a diversity of longer-term solutions like nuclear and renewables.

The unfortunate reality is that we may just have to drill. Our insatiable appetite for petroleum has left us with little choice in the short-term and means we have a hard road ahead of us to make the transition to other more responsible sources of energy in the long-term. A constructive debate in our country? God forbid.

A DOSE OF COMMON SENSE is a weekly political column written by Ben Murphy, the Founder/CEO of TheFatherLife.com.  You can learn more at ADoseOfCommonSense.com.

Image by: Mike Baird

Further Reading:
CNBC – Big Majority Believes US Still in Recession
The Economic Populist – Oil Demand to Exceed Supply by 2014?
Bloomberg – Oil Spill Mustn’t End Offshore Drilling: Christine Todd Whitman
TIME – The Far-Ranging Costs of the Mess in the Gulf
The Economist – Deep Trouble: America’s distorted energy markets, not just its coastline, need cleaning up
Oceana North America – Stop The Drill
Wikipedia – World Population
Wikipedia – 1973 Oil Crisis
BusinessWeek – Billionaire Ambani Says $100 Crude Oil to Be New Norm
NationMaster – Oil Consumption by Country

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