Feature

Offshore drilling: The remedy for $4-a-gallon gas?

Sifting through the promise and perils of drilling for more oil.

President Bush must think we’re idiots, said Newsday in an editorial. Addressing the surge in gas prices last week, Bush declared that while alternative energy is the only long-term solution to our energy crisis, Congress should provide some short-term relief to motorists by opening off-limits U.S. coastal waters to oil drilling. With gasoline now at more than $4 throughout the nation, said the Chicago Sun-Times, Bush’s proposal may sound appealing. But drilling off the Florida and California coasts would leave beaches and marine ecosystems vulnerable to catastrophic spills. And by the federal government’s own analysis, it will be at least a decade before any new coastal-drilled oil comes to market. “Now is the time for real, meaningful action,” not for “gimmicks” that will bring neither short-term nor long-term relief.

Perhaps you don’t understand how oil markets work, said Investor’s Business Daily. The price of oil is set by traders in commodity markets, who buy and sell the stuff based largely on how much they think it’s going to be worth in the future. The mere announcement that the U.S. was going to start tapping, say, the estimated 115 billion barrels of oil beneath the outer continental shelf would immediately send the price of a barrel of crude tumbling. While we’re at it, said Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post, we should open Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, too. Environmentalists worry that we might disturb some caribou, so instead we import oil from places like the Niger Delta, where “the resulting pollution and oil spillages poison the lives of many of the world’s most wretchedly poor.” Why not use our superior technology to extract our own oil, safely and cleanly?

The very last thing America needs at the moment is more oil, said Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. In fact, any real leader would be telling us that “oil is poisoning our climate and our geopolitics,” and that we need to start weaning ourselves from our addiction and finding alternative sources of energy. For that reason, high oil prices are actually a good thing, because they’ll help drive conservation, open the door to new nuclear power plants, and trigger “massive investments” in renewable sources such as wind, solar, and solar thermal. “Our addict-in-chief,” though, would rather offer Americans “one more toke on the old oil pipe,” with a wink and a promise: “Next year, we’ll go straight.”

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