Everyone agrees that putting gasoline in our cars and trucks is expensive, that the price has increased alarmingly in recent months, and that for many American families fueling their cars has become a threat to their economic security and even their ability to pay the rent or put food on the table.
You may have also noticed that this is an election year.
The answer to our gasoline woes, say both George W. Bush and John McCain, is to drill for oil on the North American continental shelf, something that has been prohibited ever since both Congress and the president's own father banned off-shore drilling. The reasons for this ban are obvious: drilling and the inevitable subsequent oil spills pose catastrophic threats to the complex oceanic and litoral ecosystems.
Nothing makes this threat any less significant now than when these prohibitions began. Indeed, one could argue that as the world's population continues to grow and as feeding all those people becomes increasingly difficult, we should do all we can to protect and even restore the ocean's great fisheries.
But with oil up over $130 a barrel, with voters angry about their gasoline and heating oil bills, and with reserves of oil apparently sitting off shore, the big oil lobby, abetted by Bush and McCain, is demanding a chance to suck it out and sell it to you. If you've recently filled up your tank, you might agree.
Here's what Bush and McCain are not telling you: Under the very best of circumstances--meaning no regulatory problems, sufficient refining capacity, and cooperative weather and geological conditions--not a drop of any oil found will reach your gas tank in less than ten years. More important, under the best of scenarios, the amount of recoverable oil on the continental shelf will not make any appreciable difference in the price of oil. There simply isn't enough of it to make the pump price go down. See here. There are reasons why gasoline costs so much: the declining purchasing power of the American dollar--largely brought on by a ghastly and astronomically expensive war in Iraq--is one. A growing appetite for oil in China, India, and rest of the world is another. The reluctance of American car manufacturers to invest in fuel-efficient technologies is yet another. The list goes on and on.
Drilling in environmentally sensitive areas--and this includes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge--is not the answer. Pushing for new drilling is an election-year gimmick and yet another republican gift to the oil companies. Though the amount of oil out there will not do you and me any good, it will do plenty to engorge the already obscene profits of the oil companies that land the leases. Anyone recall what industry Bush and Cheney used to work for?