To Drill or Not to Drill: A Special BOW Award

June 21, 2008

This week’s BOW (Buffoon Of the Week) Award is a bit different from recent ones, in that we’ll be focusing in depth on a single issue question.  

I’ll begin by stating the obvious:  There was plenty of buffoonery this week — the staffers with Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign who refused to let two Muslim women sit behind the candidate during a campaign appearance because they were wearing hijabs (traditional head scarves) come to mind, as do the Republican operatives who have been pounding away at Michelle Obama for a remark she explained months ago.  And then there was Rep. Steven King (Wingnut from Iowa) who won the first or second BOW Award I gave out with his offensive comments about Obama.  This week, in questioning Scott McClellan, he asked, “Couldn’t you have taken this to the grave with you and done this country a favor?”  Apparently Rep. King doesn’t understand that while McClellan’s book might not have done any favors to the GOP or the Bush Administration, it has done a great service to our country.  But the man’s an idiot, so it’s not surprising that he doesn’t get this.

But for this week we’re going to look past the small incidents that are often so amusing to recount.  Because this week George Bush and John McCain and the Republicans in Congress have been guilty of rank demagoguery on the issue of increasing oil drilling as a response to high gas prices.  There’s even some polling out there that indicates that the position is popular with the American public, and this frightens and bothers me for several reasons.  First, increased drilling in the sensitive marine environments off the coasts of California and Florida, and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, could have severe and permanent ramifications for those ecosystems.  Second, any solution to our energy needs that perpetuates our dependence on fossil fuels rather than pointing us toward new technologies and fuel sources will undermine efforts to decrease carbon emissions, thus contributing further to global warming.  And third, drilling in any of the places Bush, McCain, and their oil company buddies want access to won’t have any impact on the price of gas for twenty years.  On the other hand, legislation proposed in the House this week to end the speculative buying of oil and gas futures could have an immediate and profound impact on gas prices.  And putting an emphasis on energy conservation rather than drilling will do more in the long term to end our dependence of oil and gas.

Let me throw some numbers at you.  Here in the United States, we consume about 20.6 million barrels of oil per day.  That comes out to about 7.52 billion barrels of oil per year.  (By the way, the world consumes 86 million barrels a day, so we in this country account for nearly a quarter of the world’s oil consumption.)  According to estimates (and these can be tricky and they do vary some by source — my source is the McClatchy News Service) there is over 115 billion barrels of oil currently sitting in undeveloped or currently active off-shore drilling sites.  That’s a good deal of oil.  BUT (and this is a big but) of that total, only 19 billion barrels is accessible from the protected areas President Bush referred to in his comments on Wednesday.  19 billion barrels.  So when we talk about the issue of offshore drilling as framed this week by Bush and McCain, we’re talking about maybe two and a half years’ worth of oil.  What about ANWR you ask?  Again, estimates vary widely.  Some industry analysts (the guys with the most to gain from opening up the refuge for oil exploration) say 16 billion barrels are there.  Some on the environmentalist side of the debate say it’s only 4 or 5 billion barrels.  The United States Geological Service says 7.7 billion barrels.  Let’s use that figure.  You might notice that this is remarkably close to our annual consumption.  So taking into account the protected drilling sites and ANWR, the oil Bush and his buddies want access to totals maybe three and a half years worth of consumption.  So if there were some way to get at that oil immediately (there’s not) and bring it all to market at once (there’s not), and if we could be certain that all that oil really is there and really is accessible (we can’t be), this oil would see to our needs for forty-two months.  And then we’d be right back where we are now.

But it gets worse.  Let’s take the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil as an example for this.  Again there’s some debate on how much oil is there and how much will be flowing to the U.S. if drilling were allowed there.  The industry guys say they could supply as much as 1.45 million barrels a day when they reach peak production from the refuge.  Right.  That’s the peak.  According to the industry.  7% of our current consumption.  Environmentalists say the peak would only reach 510,000 barrels a day.  Let’s split the difference. (If you look at the USGS numbers above compared to the two extremes, you’ll realize that splitting the difference is actually too generous to the oil industry, but that’s okay — they’re already losing this debate.  We can throw ’em a bone…)  Let’s say that at it’s peak production, the refuge will give us an even million barrels a day.  5% of our usage.  Well, 5% on $4.00/gallon gas would be a savings of 20 cents per gallon.  That ain’t a lot.  More to the point, everyone agrees (yes, the tree huggers, the robber barons, and the gov’r’mint all agree on this) that we won’t reach that peak production until 2028.  And once we’ve reached that peak, it won’t last that long.  And then the savings go down.  Ouch.  Makes you wonder why they want to drill there at all, doesn’t it?

And there’s more.  An alternative solution to our energy crisis, one that Bush and McSame and the GOP seem more than happy to ignore, is conservation.  And one way to conserve is to raise CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards on all automobiles from the current rate of 27 mpg for cars and 20 for light trucks and SUVs to 35 mpg.  (The European standard, though figured differently, comes to about 40 mpg, but we’ll stick with this goal for now.)  If we raise CAFE standards to 35 mpg, we can save 1.2 million barrels of oil per day by 2020.  That’s slightly more than we’ll be getting from ANWR in 2028, and it comes eight years earlier.  That’s important because with improved CAFE standards our savings keep going up.  We’ll gradually be replacing older, less fuel efficient cars, so the overall fleet will be saving more and more gas.  How much more?  By 2030, two years after we’d finally reach that 1 million barrels a day from ANWR, we would be saving 2.4 million barrels a day.  And by that time, the technology will have improved.  Maybe we’ll be approaching that European standard.  Maybe the savings will be even higher.  The best part is, we’ll be putting less carbon into the air, and we’ll still have a pristine wilderness in Alaska.

A few other points.  Back to the offshore drilling.  I kind of glossed over one of the numbers I gave you earlier.  Of 115 billion barrels available for offshore drilling, only 19 billion are in protected areas.  So why not drill in those other non-protected areas.  Well, in some areas we already are.  But there are other areas that the oil companies already have under lease but have yet to explore for oil.  Why?  Good question!  Why would they want these protected areas when they’ve yet to do anything with the unprotected ones?  Why would George Bush and Flippy McSame and their allies in Congress be so willing to give access to these protected areas to the oil companies when those same oil companies aren’t drilling where they should be?  Could it be because the oil companies are keeping these other areas in reserve, so that they can later tap into a resource that is exploding in value?  Yeah, I think that’s possible.  Could it also be that George and John and their buds are just looking to score cheap political points by presenting a solution that helps their donors AND resonates with voters who don’t really understand the issues?  Yeah, I think that’s possible, too.

Look, these are complicated issues.  When I say that voters don’t understand them, I don’t mean to be condescending.  I didn’t understand them very well either until l did the research and learned about them.  But the fact is gas prices are high.  They’re going to stay high.  Most other industrialized democracies (Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, all the EU nations) have been paying WAY more for gas than we have for a really long time.  The realities of the global energy markets have finally caught up with us.  We can’t drill our way out of the problem, and I also know that we can’t conserve our way out of the problem.  We’ll have to drill some, but for goodness sake, before we let the oil companies into the most sensitive of our remaining wilderness areas, let’s make them drill in the places to which they already have access.  And let’s combine our concern over $4.00/gallon gas with our efforts to reduce carbon emissions and our search for alternate sources of fuel.  Let’s make a real commitment to conservation by raising fuel standards on every car sold in this country.  Let’s offer financial rewards to industry leaders who come up with promising alternatives to the internal combustion engine.  Think about it for a minute.  A century ago we were just learning to fly planes, there were no televisions, we were half a century away from space travel, and even farther from consumer level computers.  Think of the revolution in technology we’ve seen in the last 100 years.  And then consider this:  a century ago cars were using the internal cumbustion engine.  Just like we do today.  Are we to believe that this is the pinnacle of automotive technology?  Give me a break!  We can do so much better than this!

What bothers me about Republican efforts to make oil drilling an issue is that they have access to the same information I do.  They know all the stuff I’ve been writing about.  They just choose to ignore it.  John McCain understands that drilling in these protected areas won’t do a damn thing for gas prices for another two decades, but he also knows that calling for more drilling polls well and that it’s an easy soundbite to say “Let’s drill” and a much more complicated one to explain why this is bad policy.  We’ve got a serious — some would say critical — energy situation on our hands.  We deserve serious policy initiatives.  This isn’t one.  This is cheap, it’s cynical, and ultimately it hurts us as a nation.  And so this week’s BOW Award goes to George Bush, John McCain, and the Republicans in Congress for giving us the political smoke and mirrors of “More Oil Drilling” when what we need is a serious conversation about energy solutions.  Take a BOW guys.  You’ve earned it.  And here’s hoping that eventually your cars are Smart, even if you’re not.


8 Responses to “To Drill or Not to Drill: A Special BOW Award”

  1. I didn’t know about the unexplored lease areas. My bet is the reason they don’t want to drill there yet is a) it’s more expensive–deeper waters, more difficult terrain and so on. And b) it will be less lucrative than in protected areas. And/or c) I think right now the protected areas issue deflects attention from them right now and that is an advantage.

    But the fact of the matter is we must find alternative methods of energy. Especially for static things like the energy of buildings (by static I mean that they can sit there and collect solar or wind energy and cars aren’t static).

  2. Frank said

    I had a weird thought when you first mentioned this back on Tuesday. Drilling in ANWR is one of the (few) areas in which The POTUS and Sen. McCain (calling him “Flippy McSame” doesn’t really demonstrate a desire for a “serious conversation” much does it?) actually differ.

    So to HELP McCain maintain his “I’m A Maverick Who is Not Like G.W.Bush At All!” credibility, Bush needs to harp on ANWR relentlessly. As a matter of fact, it might be good for his party for Dubya to call even more strenuously for things that McCain doesn’t approve of, to give “McSame” the chance to flaunt his “McDifference”.

  3. davidbcoe said

    Di, you’re right. There are many more dimensions to saving energy that I didn’t have time or space to address here. Mass transit, alternative energy sources like those you mention, small things like reinsulating homes, weatherproofing, etc. It all ads up.

    And Frank, yeah, I know. Flippy McSame isn’t the most constructive conversation opener, but it sure is fun to say. ANWR is one of the few areas where McCain differs from Bush, but I wonder how long that will last. McCain shows no compunction about changing positions on issues when it suits his needs.

  4. Mark Wise said

    Here is good canidate for next week’s BOW award, I don’t care if you are Democrat or Republican.

  5. Frank said

    Yeah, I gotta Totally agree with mark on that one. What the HELL was that guy thinking? “Rip Apart” a 6 year old on the witness stand, so that they will be mentally scarred until adulthood? Even the worst of the Talk Radio Ranters could barely get away with comments like that.

    I don’t know what the content of the law in question is, specifically, but advocating the psychological torture of a Kindergartener is probably the wrong way to go about making your point.

    I’m just sayin’!

  6. davidbcoe said

    Fagan is a Democrat and his quote as reported in the paper was reprehensible. Mandatory minimums for various crimes are, in my opinion, a difficult issue. It’s hard to argue for any sort of leniency for child rape cases, As a dad with two young daughters, I find it particularly difficult. If it was my kid, I’d want the perp killed. But the Supreme Court ruled just today that execution in a case like this would be unconstitutional. And I think that it can be argued that sentencing requirements often create more problems than they solve. (Remember the case of the 17 year-old boy who had consensual sex with his 15 year-old girlfriend and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for statutory rape?)

    All that said, here is the FULL quote from Fagan, who is a defense attorney by trade (the “it” in “it’s so wrong” is a proposed mandatory sentence of 20 years):

    “Let me tell you why it’s so wrong, It’s so wrong because in these situations . . . that 6-year-old is going to sit in front of me, or somebody far worse than me and I’m going to rip them apart. I’m going to make sure that the rest of their life is ruined. That when they’re 8 years old they throw up; when they’re 12 years old, they won’t sleep. When they’re 19 years old they’ll have nightmares and they’ll never have a relationship with anybody. And that’s not because I’m a nice guy. That’s because when you’re in court, and you’re defending somebody’s liberty, and you’re facing a mandatory sentence of those draconian proportions, you have to do every single thing you can do on behalf of your client. That is your obligation as a trial lawyer.”

    I won’t comment further, except to say that the reporting of the Boston Herald on this story provided very little context for Fagan’s remarks.

  7. Mark Wise said

    I will say that even within context, he chose poor wording. He included himself amongst those Defense Attorney’s who would rip apart victims of child rape. He did not say, “There are those DA’s out there who would…..”. No, he said, “…that 6-year-old is going to sit in front of me, or somebody far worse than me and I’m going to rip them apart.”. Then he sums it up by saying that it is his duty – nay obligation as a DA – to rip the 6 year old rape victim apart. Rep. Fagan is a DA btw.

  8. davidbcoe said

    His wording, sucked. Agreed. When you start giving lawyers a bad name you know you’ve messed up big time….

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