Earlier this week George W. Bush again demonstrated his eagerness to exploit large-scale human tragedy for the advancement of his political party’s interests when he used a speech given in the aftermath of the not-as-destructive-as-predicted Hurricane Gustav to push for more domestic oil drilling. It’s been the favorite theme of Republican mouthpieces this election year, especially the obnoxious conservative faction who would have us all believe that the party is theirs and theirs alone. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has been screaming “Drill here, drill now, pay less” from every platform that will have him for months, and Sean Hannity has spent almost as much airtime on his radio show lobbying for expanded domestic oil production as he has reminding us that Barack Obama once slightly misspoke and said he’d been to fifty-seven states (rather than forty-seven, which he obviously meant to say).
When a hurricane strikes in the Gulf of Mexico, this country should not be so dependent on imported oil that we are forced to draw from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. . . . And families cannot throw away more and more of their paychecks on gas and heating oil. . . . To confront the threat that Iran might seek to cut off nearly a fifth of world energy supplies, or that terrorists might strike again at the Abqaiq facility in Saudi Arabia, or that Venezuela might shut off its oil deliveries, we Americans need to produce more of our own oil and gas. And take it from a gal who knows the North Slope of Alaska: we’ve got lots of both. . . . We need American energy resources, brought to you by American ingenuity, and produced by American workers.
When Bush, Palin, Gingrich, and their volunteer press secretaries in talk radio demand more domestic oil drilling, they aren’t fighting for energy independence or lower prices at the pump; they’re fighting only to further swell the already gargantuan profits of the petroleum industry.
Sure, the petroleum in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge is “ours” in the sense that it is beneath American soil rather than Iranian soil, but what the “Drill Here, Drill Now!” crowd fails to grasp (or conveniently forgets to mention) is that the petroleum extracted from the ground by the oil companies will not belong to “us” — it will belong to them. Where do people get the idea that this is our oil? Once the land is leased and the crude extracted by an oil company, the product is the property of that oil company, which is free to sell it on the global market to the highest bidder. Oil companies are indifferent to the plight of the common American struggling to afford a tank of gas. Their only interest is in maximizing profit. Their oil will go to whoever is willing to pay the most for it. Advocates for increased drilling imply that expanded domestic production will cause oil prices to plummet, but the maximum output from ANWR, from the most optimistic estimates, would only lower the price of a barrel of crude oil a few dollars. The impact on the price of gasoline and diesel at American filling stations would be minimal. And with American companies selling their product abroad on the open market, imports of foreign oil would remain the same.
Those American energy resources, tapped by American ingenuity and the sweat of American workers, would only help to enrich the already flush American oil companies. There is no national oil industry in the United States (and I’m not suggesting there ought to be). Except for the 700 million barrels currently held in Strategic Petroleum Reserves by the Department of Energy, there is no such thing as “our oil.” (To put the size of the SPR into context, recall that the current rate of oil consumption is around 30 billion barrels per year worldwide.) When politicians and pundits say we must produce more of “our own oil,” they are either consciously lying to you (Bush, Cheney, probably Palin) or showing their ignorance (yeah, that’s Hannity).
The only way to achieve real energy independence is to develop our resources that can’t be exported, and that we don’t need to import and phase out the use of fossil fuels entirely. Wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal energy can provide electricity instead of oil or coal; automobiles can run on electric batteries or fuel cells powered by hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe. The transition will be long and costly, and every penny spent on exploring, extracting and refining petroleum is a penny not spent on developing these clean and inexhaustible energy sources.
Drilling is not a solution. Drilling will exacerbate, not ameliorate. George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, and the misguided Republicans who stayed behind to protest during the congressional recess are wrong. If the petroleum industry and their apologists in politics and the media get their way, and they pump the wells dry before turning to alternatives, a worldwide economic catastrophe will ensue. Had the leaders of the Carter and Reagan administrations been more courageous and foresighted following the last energy crisis, the shift from expensive and dirty fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy would be well underway. Instead, oil costs $110 per barrel, gas and diesel cost averages of $3.68 and $4.12 per gallon respectively in the United States, and the transition from petroleum has hardly begun.
The children and grandchildren of this generation deserve better than what our leaders want to give them.