When the summer driving season starts soon, and tension heats up over Iran, gas may reach $5 a gallon. Nothing bothers voters more than paying an extra $20 or $30 every time they fill up. In times like these, they soon might prefer even an oilman in the White House to an ideologue whose opposition to new oil development seems more religious than empirically based.
All presidents, of course, usually get the blame or praise when the price of gas skyrockets or plummets, just like they own a bad or good economy, or a successful or failed war. Obama, however, earns additional blame for the gas rise for reasons well beyond the normal oil bogeymen — tension in the Middle East, rapacious OPEC dictators, oil-company greed, and Wall Street speculation. Why? Americans remember that his team boasted about wanting higher energy costs in 2008, when Obama was still basking in hope-and-change adulation.
Energy Secretary-designate Steven Chu, who doesn’t own a car, pontificated about wanting higher American gasoline prices, hoping they would somehow reach European levels. Candidate Obama breezily warned of skyrocketing energy prices — the necessary cost of his planned cap-and-trade, anti-global-warming legislation. Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado, who was soon to become interior secretary, bragged that even if gas reached $10 a gallon, he would not vote to open up new federal offshore oil leases.
Once upon a time, Obama and his supporters believed that high gas and oil prices were either helpful in ensuring that favored subsidized green energies would be cost-competitive, or helped the environment. That’s why a now-embarrassed Obama digs in by mocking opponents who call for increased drilling.
A president, so Obama claims, has little control over gas prices. New domestic supplies of oil would not come on the market for years. Americans consume a quarter of the world’s oil supplies while possessing only 2 percent of global reserves. In a global oil market, additional American drilling would not make that much of a price difference.
But all of these claims are either flat wrong or misleading. Presidents can affect gas prices, at least in the long term, by exercising budgetary discipline resulting in a currency that buys more oil per dollar, by approving or rejecting federal oil leases, and by adding or curbing regulations that affect oil exploration and development. In all of these cases, Obama has supported policies that contribute to higher gas prices.
The point about the lag time between finding and pumping oil is valid. But that reality is precisely why presidents must green-light exploration for future generations — and why Obama is now bragging of record U.S. production only because of his predecessor’s granting of federal oil leases. Obama’s “it takes too long” argument is absurd — as if farmers should never plant new orchards since they won’t see fruit on their trees for three years or more.
Obama’s knowledge of U.S. reserves is 20 years out of date. In the first three years of his administration alone, new finds offshore, in Alaska, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in unexpected places such as North Dakota, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio have revolutionized America’s energy future in ways undreamed of just a few years ago. We probably have 100 years of natural-gas supplies at present rates of consumption and could cut our imported oil by 50 percent in a few years.
Even Obama does not believe his own dismissals of the role of global supply and demand in setting energy prices. In a tight world oil market, just a few million more barrels a day produced anywhere — or even the indication that a major producer like America might soon put 2 million or 3 million more barrels a day on the market — can help to stabilize prices. That’s why Obama is considering tapping oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve while asking the Saudis to pump a little more. Does the president believe that more foreign or previously pumped oil would lower world prices in a way newly pumped domestic oil would not?
Technologies such as fracking and horizontal drilling have made it possible for Americans to produce their own oil and gas as never before. We can pump oil with less environmental damage than can Venezuela, Mexico, and Nigeria. New domestic production would save a near-bankrupt America billions of dollars currently being lost in import costs while cutting security expenses in deploying forces to the Middle East.
New oil development will create thousands of jobs, worry speculators that America will soon release lots of oil on the world market, and provide a window to produce alternative energies without slapdash, Solyndra-like boondoggles. Drilling is a win, win, and win choice — and so known to everyone except the president and his shrinking number of reactionary advisers, who prefer green faith to hard science.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author of the just-released The End of Sparta. You can reach him by e-mailing [email protected] © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.