No issue has caught more voter interest in recent weeks than the question regarding offshore drilling. I wrote about it a few weeks ago and continue to reflect on it more today. I am no expert, as several reminded me, but I think I can follow an argument and read what the experts tell us. So here is my take, simple or otherwise.

Lifting the drilling ban on the outer-continental shelf is a no brainer really. Before we can create alternative fuels and new energy use products we must drill. This is not an either/or debate. But this is what many in Congress, led by Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi, are telling us day after day. They blast away on oil companies making profits while the public suffers even more. Their view is to punish the profit-makers and manage our economy by a kind of redistribution of wealth and energy money. This approach will always fail.

We must do all that we can to develop new energy sources but we must ALSO drill now. Why? The challenge in Georgia with the Soviet Union is one compelling reason. The "new" Russia is flexing its muscle and the reason is oil and Russian pride and nationalism. Meanwhile we are energy dependent on the Middle East and need to wean ourselves off this source as well. I made this point a few weeks ago and someone suggested I was mistaken. I did not say that we went to war in Iraq for oil but this is what critics have been saying for five years. Look, our dependence on foreign oil impacts national security, the balance of payments and national economic health. We cannot afford to do nothing. But that is what we are doing so far. 

The argument here is not that complex. We use oil and we could produce it ourselves if we wanted to do it but presently we do not produce nearly enough because we do not have the vision to do it. We do have the oil within our borders but we have not extracted it at a pace to keep up with our need. Oil_rigs_field_2
We have 270-plus million cars and millions more diesel powered trucks on our roads. Logic 101: It will be decades before we can change this reality. We need petroleum and the sooner we find it the better.

But we are being told it will take twenty years for new drilling to have an impact on this problem. This is where the debate lies if truth be told. The truth is we cannot drill our way out of this problem overnight. In fact, drilling even over the next thirty years will not solve the problem. T. Boone Pickens, who is an oil man, understands this reality clearly. But drilling now will slowly change a major crisis to a nagging problem that can be solved. (We should have done it years ago but we have had a Congress uncommitted to doing anything about this and presidents who would not lead us to see it. Your guess is as good as mine as to the motives but these are the facts.)

So what about drilling now? What difference will it make? The 20 year claim is bogus  in my view. It seems to be an old fashioned political scare tactic. The lag time from drilling to extracting the oil is not 20 years if we drill in places where we already know oil is there to extract. If we are talking about places where seismologists think there could be oil, say off the coast of New Jersey, then it might take 20 years to get it. But if we are talking about drilling in areas where we already get oil the time lag is only a few years. The problem is the Congress has banned these areas and the Congress can now change that ban but the will to do it is not there yet. A well drilled one mile from an existing productive well , based on making a political decision to move a line arbitrarily made, will change things in a hurry. And the infrastructure to move this new crude from the ocean to the market is in place. Some who know say that within two to five years we could be moving hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day to market. Some oil experts even say millions of barrels per day. Do the companies want to drill? Of course they do. They can make a profit and the price of gasoline will do down and we will all benefit. America will be more secure, more healthy economically, and less likely to get into a needless new war.

The infrastructure we have in place, which depends on liquid fuels and oil, will not be completely changed for decades, maybe even a hundred years. Again there is no serious debate about this. We will need solar energy, nuclear energy, biofuels and coal  for well beyond our lifetime. But to get from the present to the future we need to drill now. Congress is making a huge mistake.

The irony, at least politically, is simple. The Republicans had no, and I mean no, political muscle to flex in the coming election with regard to the economy. But 75% of America says: "Drill now." if Congress stalls and refuses to deal with this issue in September-October the Democrats could be making a mistake that will ruin their plans for major control of the political future. The Republican party is in a mess in so many ways. The scandals and the profiteering are obvious to all. But this issue is so clear that massive numbers can see it. What will Congress do? I have no idea but if they really care about America I think the decision is obvious and I think most people agree with that assessment.

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  1. Adam S August 22, 2008 at 7:28 am

    I am not going to say we should not drill at all. But the arguments to drill are just not that persuasive. First you are probably right that 20 years is a bit long. But as has been repeated many times that even if we wanted to start drilling tomorrow we couldn’t. Reason one, there is about a five year wait on drilling platforms. We can’t start drilling tomorrow. So while it may not be 20 years, 10 years to an amount that is sizable is probably reality. Second, although pro-drilling people keep repeating it, the reality is that US oil companies don’t seem like they really want to drill in the US in the short term. They are afraid that the prices are going to drop even further than they already have and it won’t be cost effective to drill. Deep sea drilling is expensive and unless oil prices stay high it does not make sense to drill.
    Also we need to figure out why we want to drill. Are we drilling because we think that oil is the best energy method? It is very good, it is quick to refill, easy to store and transport, etc. Are we drilling because we think that oil is going to go down if we drill? Oil is a global market with very high demand. Demand is not going down, it is going up and the supply is going down. Most oil experts that I have heard say that we have probably crossed the point where easily extractable oil has been found and what is left is hard.
    I agree that it is not either/or. I think we should allow for drilling, but we should also allow off shore wind platforms (which have not permitted up until now) and put a lot of money into basic research. It will be a long process but if people feel secure in their choice of oil and gas energy economy (because we are drilling in the US) then we are just delaying the inevitable. So I am OK with drilling only if it is tied to a well rounded plan that includes funding for research and an even playing field for alternative energy.
    President Bush while he was governor in Texas pass a plan that required energy companies buy alternative energy. It was method agnostic and it has been successful. Another plan similar to that would be useful. But instead all Republicans want to talk about is drilling and all Dems want to talk about is not drilling.

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