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Restarting the Drill

Despite repeated, futile efforts from governments over the last 30 years, the world’s economy and well-being is heavily reliant on the use of petroleum to meet our transportation needs. John Stewart of The Daily Show cataloged the efforts of our last eight Presidents to wean us off of foreign oil, as total imports of petroleum have continually risen: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me eight times, am I a ****ing idiot?”

Modest advances in alternative forms of transportation – such as rail — have proven useful in certain areas of the world, but leave much to be desired in areas of lower density – like the United States. It is certainly possible that in the future oil might lose its world dominance as a transportation fuel, but so far nothing has even come close to meeting the challenge.

Electric Vehicles (EVs) have a number of technological hurdles that skeptical scientists aren’t sure will be overcome. Biofuels have yet to become scalable in an environmentally acceptable way, and it is becoming increasingly likely that government led efforts to mandate and develop massive quantities these fuels (I’m looking at you, corn ethanol) may have done more harm than good.

This is why campaigns to stop offshore drilling (and onshore) are very damaging. There is no economically viable alternative to petroleum to fuel our transportation needs that currently exist, and our world’s waterways hold a very significant amount of petroleum and natural gas. Offshore oil drilling now accounts for roughly one-third of daily oil production, and as these areas are less explored than onshore areas, they likely hold the most promising future reserves. Closing these areas to exploration will hurt our national competitiveness, increase our trade deficit, and delay the end of the recession.

There are many campaigns to stop drilling. A prime example is Oceana’sStop the Drill’ campaign. Oceana is advocating for ending all offshore drilling, everywhere. Think about what this would do to the price of oil and the larger effect on our economy as gas prices skyrocket. They have run advertisements spooking residents about how bad oil spills would be in their own backyard – Washington D.C. or New York City. If only the U.S. were so lucky as to have more oil deposits in shallow, safely accessible areas like the bay in New York City.

Others anti-drilling campaigns are sponsored by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They recently launched a lawsuit to stop deepwater drilling off the coast of Louisiana, to the chagrin of the governors of many Gulf states. Similar efforts by anti-growth environmentalists have been undertaken to stop Shell from drilling off the northern coast of Alaska, though it appears as if Shell may have finally succeeded.

There is no excuse not to restart the responsible drilling of our own domestic resources. Much like the recession, these campaigns need to end. A recent study by the National Ocean Industries Association estimated that 180,000 jobs could be added in the Gulf of Mexico alone if oil permitting was allowed to increase from its current snail’s pace. Given the incredibly poor job numbers of past months, letting these projects move ahead seems like a no-brainer. Furthermore, because most of this oil is on land owned by the federal government, millions of dollars of revenue from royalties will be paid to the federal government, in addition to corporate income taxes.

A campaign like ‘Stop the Drill’ easily attracts the consumer who appreciates the environment, but isn’t always capable of making the connection between the massive improvements in health, lifespan, and well-being associated with the production of crude oil.

Even environmental writers struggle with the connection, as environmental journalist Amanda Little noted in her book:

“There was virtually nothing in my office—my body included—that wasn’t there because of fossil fuels… I also realized that this thing I thought was a four-letter word (oil) was actually the source of many creature comforts I use and love—and many survival tools I need. It seemed almost miraculous. Never had I so fully grasped the immense versatility of fossil fuels on a personal level and their greater relevance in the economy at large.”

If a green journalist struggled to make the connection, imagine a layperson being shown horrid pictures of oil-spill disasters, and being asked if they support drilling for oil. Many would not support it. And yet oil production is vital to our well-being, and we should count our blessings that it is so plentiful on the earth. Until a suitable replacement arrives, via the market system rather than the heavy hand of government, America should embrace our abundance of domestic resources.

Restart the drill.

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