The Corner

Drilling and Our Collective Madness

There is something pathetic about Americans begging the House of Saud to produce another 300,000-500,000 barrels of oil per day, while in mindless fashion repeating the mantra, “We can’t drill our way out of this problem” — as if anyone suggested absolute oil independence was the goal rather than more supply to deflate tight conditions that encourage speculation. Americans, who invented the oil industry, are beginning to resemble H.G. Wells’ Eloi in our refined paralysis.

Exploration and oil production are an issue that is absolutely explosive for Democrats, given their perennial resistance to ANWR, coastal and deep ocean drilling, tar sands, shale, liquid coal, and nuclear. And the irony is that their opposition to drilling — dismissing each potential find or field with the reductionist “it would be only 500,000 barrels,” “a mere million barrels,” or “just a few cents off a gallon of gas” — is classically illiberal to the point of either callousness or abject madness.


(1) Social Justice: The poorer, inordinately in far cheaper 2nd-hand used gas guzzlers, who have less access to pricey new hybrids and imported small cars, are hurt the most, especially those in rural communities without mass transit.

(2) The Environment: Given the demands of two billion users in China and India, the world is going to go after oil, whether we like it or not. U.S. oil companies and American environmental legislation are the most ecologically friendly in the world. Each time we refuse to pump a barrel of oil, someone else in this fungible market will — and with far less concern for the health of planet Earth. Again, there is something appalling in de facto saying to others — “Drill off your coasts and in your fragile deserts and beside your lakes so I can fuel my Lexus SUV and Volvo — and cherish the comforting thought I would never do that in my ANWR.”

(3) National Security: At $140 a barrel of oil we have little influence in warning the world about Iranian nukes, or Middle-East money leaking to Islamic terrorists, or Saudi-funded madrassas, or the cynicism of Hugo Chavez or Russian strong-arm tactics toward Europe; at less than $50 the world begins to appear far less dangerous and far more rational.

(4) Financial Sanity: U.S. exporters are doing brilliantly, with help from a weak dollar, but our efforts to produce and sell abroad are increasingly all for naught, given the enormous cost of imported oil. Each time we invest American know-how and expertise in selling abroad a skip-loader or bushel of wheat or new software program that once explained our national wealth, we simply buy another barrel of foreign oil at $140 that often costs the far-less-adept less than $5 to pump. In contrast, the tens of billions we would save by even shaving 3 to 4 million barrels per day from our imported appetites would radically redefine both our trade balances and the dollar.

(5) Alternate Fuels/New Energies: No one is talking about more the return of Hummers and Escalades or a mythical $2 a gallon gas. Rather, with demand down, and the public aware that oil is finite and will remain tight, drilling provides a needed window to transition us to electrical plug-ins, biofuels, fuel cells, etc. without endangering our national security — or going broke or seeing a nuke go off in the Middle East.

(6) Food versus Fuel: I don’t understand in moral terms how worrying about the terrain in 2,000 acres in a multimillion-acre Alaska trumps diverting one-fifth to one-fourth of our corn acreage away from animal and human foods to produce transportation fuel. People worldwide are in dire straits, given rising food prices, while we, in anti-humanistic fashion, complain about the view from Santa Barbara or a herd on the tundra.

Our current stasis reminds me of Jack Hawkins last words in The Bridge Over the River Kwai — “Madness! Madness!”


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