Sunday, September 21, 2008



By Jeff Jacoby

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Q: Says here the House of Representatives approved a bill to allow offshore oil drilling, but nearly all the Republicans voted against it. What’s up with that? Weren't Republicans the ones chanting "Drill, baby, drill!" at their convention last month?

A: Yep. That's why they voted against this bill. It isn't a drilling bill, it's an anti-drilling bill. If it becomes law, nearly all the oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf would be off-limits forever.

Q: Huh? This story says the bill "would allow offshore drilling as close as 50 miles from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts." It quotes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "It's time for an oil change in America, and this bill represents that." That's anti-drilling?

A: C'mon: A few weeks ago, Pelosi was implacably opposed to letting the House vote on lifting the offshore drilling moratorium. "I'm trying to save the planet!" she told Politico. "I'm trying to save the planet!" You really think someone so sanctimoniously hostile to drilling just six weeks ago is all for it now?

Q: But this bill --

A: This bill permanently bans all drilling within 50 miles of the US coast, which just happens to be where most of the recoverable oil and gas reserves are. It permits drilling between 50 and 100 miles out only if the adjoining states agree -- which they won't, since the bill denies them any share in the royalties the oil companies would have to pay, thereby eliminating any financial incentive for a state to say yes. Virtually all the oil off the California coast and beneath the Eastern Gulf of Mexico would be locked up for good. Don't be fooled: The only offshore drilling this bill really opens the door to would have to be 100 miles or more out to sea, where the oil companies have no infrastructure -- making energy production particularly difficult and expensive.

Q: But the Democrats claim they are "expanding the availability of oil by at least 2 billion barrels."

A: Do you know how much oil is out there? According to the Interior Department, the offshore areas where drilling is restricted contain more than 19 billion barrels -- that's equal to 30 years of current imports from Saudi Arabia. The bill would deny Americans access to as much as nine-tenths of that oil. A good deal? I don't think so.

Q: So what are you saying? The Pelosi bill is a sham?

A: Call it a political maneuver. Democrats don't really mind high gasoline prices; more pain at the pump means reduced consumption of fossil-fuel, which they and their environmental allies blame for global warming. But with millions of constituents growing increasingly upset over $4-a-gallon gas, and with polls showing the public heavily in favor of lifting the drilling ban, they had to do something. VoilĂ  -- Speaker Pelosi's bill: a feint of supporting offshore exploration that would actually make drilling more difficult.

Q: Well, I can't fault Pelosi for thinking about the planet. Maybe we need more energy, but do you really think drilling more oil wells in the ocean is good for the earth?

A: Hey, here's a news flash: The less oil we pull out of the ground ourselves, the more we have to import from elsewhere. Who do you think is more likely to injure the planet -- the United States, which uses the world's most advanced and environmentally sensitive drilling technology? Or Saudi Arabia and Nigeria and Russia and other exporters that aren't nearly as fastidious about oil leaks and pollution? Think of the American oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. They're so well-built that not even Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, destructive as they were, caused a significant oil spill. To borrow a formulation from Charles Krauthammer, banning drilling here doesn’t prevent environmental despoliation; it exports it.

Q: OK, but isn't our addiction to oil the root of the problem? Don't we need to wean ourselves off oil and move to greener sources of energy?

A: In theory, sure. In reality, we'll be running on oil for decades yet. Listen to this:

Well, the winds of change are blowin'

And we recognize that need

But tractors, trucks, cars, and planes can't run on tomorrow's dreams

So while we're workin' on the future, we can't ignore today

'Cause who knows how much time the alternative might take?

Q: Nice -- where's that from?

A: A new song by Aaron Tippin, the country-music star.

Q: It sounds great. What's it called?

A: "Drill Here, Drill Now."

(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)

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