Apparently, an increase in offshore drilling is still on the policy table, which suggests Obama is taking a more rational approach to energy policy than many of his colleagues. Without question, offshore drilling cannot provide ‘energy independence’ (a ludicrous concept, but that’s for another day), but there are numerous benefits and only a trivial downside.
Drilling in the areas now restricted (offshore Florida, the East Coast, and especially California) would provide a number of new jobs, additional oil and gas production, and taxpayer revenues. None would be earth shattering, but magic bullets are few and far between.
More notably, the downsides are few. Some environmentalists express fear of oil spills, but this worry is misplaced. Only one major oil spill has occurred due to offshore drilling: Santa Barbara in the late 1960s. The industry has advanced since then, and massive operations offshore have seen no further major spills. (I am not suggesting the industry should not be regulated or monitored.)
In fact, the worst spills are those from oil tankers, and producing less oil domestically means more tankers in the waters, thus the danger of a catastrophic spill is actually enhanced by not drilling offshore. Although only about half of the world’s oil is transported by tanker, the National Academy of Science estimates that four times as much is spilled from tankers as from exploration.
In addition to less risk of tanker spill, drilling and producing in many areas also reduces resevoir pressure and seepage. The ultimate goal should be to reduce oil in the water–reducing tanker traffic and seepage both are ways to do that, but take drilling and production to accomplish.
Energy independence is probably a hopeless concept as long as it is limited to domestic production of 100% of the btus used in the US economy. However foolish is the concept of BTU independence, ridicule of it has been used to stifle a lot of economically worthwhile projects – look at how the Dems talk about offshore production or ANWR. But every time we reject a worthwhile project or policy because “that one is not the magic bullet” that will cure all woes, we burrow ever more deeply into second and third best solutions. For example, we will never find out whether electric vehicles are worthwhile if our pricing system for utilities fails to distinguish by time of day.
There is another definition that is more operational and useful. Energy independence occurs when we do not have to subordinate decisions outside the energy economy to our need for imported energy from specific sources or for the recycling of the funds that the sellers receive from such sales.
I seems to me that once we have taken the steps to produce what is economically feasible (and modified our domestic pricing and regulation to stem the leaks of economic efficiency in the energy sector) then we will have achieved a sense of independence that will make us substantially less susceptible to political and financial blackmail. Kind of like the F*** you money they talk about.
The Big downsides: More production would provide pricing relief on the margin from OPEC squeeze – Baad, because would delay migration to more virtuous (and less economic) corn, wind and sun. Then if Big Oil prospered, they would have more political clout and become the last industry standing that is not a ward of the state.
[…] out oil from foreign sources isn’t safe either. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that four times as much oil is spilled from tankers as there is from oil exploration. And the less we drill at […]