Saturday, August 09, 2008

Off-Shore Drilling Is Part Of The Answer

Talifaitasi W. Satele


I’m always dumbfounded when people compare our reliance on fossil fuels to an addiction, as Mr. Herdrich did in his guest editorial. If there is anything we’re addicted to, it’s to higher standards of living that oil is now providing for at the lowest cost possible. It’s unfortunate that some would relegate our pursuits of living better, more affordable lives to something as irrehensible as crack; especially when it comes to those who could least afford the high-priced luxuries of an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

In the past, oil harvested from whales was used to light up lanterns and make candlesticks. Transportation back in day was largely horse-driven, and those damn animals came with their own pollution problem: manure. That did not make for a pretty picture in large urban centers like New York City.

Oil replaced whales and horses as sources of our energy needs. And you can say that the switch to oil was unintentionally beneficial to the environment. It saved the whales from extinction, got horses off the streets reducing methane exhaust, reduced our dependence on more carbon polluting fuels such as coal and wood, and as a result of the latter, saved tree forests. All the while, petroleum is used to make everything from plastics to fertilizers to the asphalt the ASG forgets to put in all the potholes back home.

I say “unintentionally beneficial to the environment” because the intention is always to get the most output out of the least input. Economists call that “efficiency”, businesses call it “profitability” and the average Joe calls it “common sense”. And right now, oil is still the cheapest form of energy that requires the least amount of input to extract all of the output that makes modern life convenient. Not hydroelectric power, not wind power, not solar power, not geothermal power, and definitely not ethanol.

Currently, the technology is unavailable to make any of those alternatives economical. But Big Oil is working on it, because they realize that they’re in the energy business, not just the oil business. In the meantime, Big Oil wants to expand oil production at home using their own money, which is the clearest indicator that such ventures are viable. These people are putting their own money where the mouth is by investing billions in the infrastructure and technology that can expand domestic production in an environmentally safe manner.

Whether oil from off-shore drilling comes 10 years or 30 years from now, it is better to start today than it is tomorrow. Gas prices is a function of supply and demand, and increasing supply is the only way to bring them down. Some are even making the point that the now likely prospect of more domestic supplies coming online is causing investors to bet down the price of oil futures contracts.

Cheap gas is not a right, but as a matter of public policy, government should not be standing in its constituents’ way when it comes to using the environment to serve their needs. One day, oil may very well dry up, and we should expect to pay the true costs of energy as determined by supply and demand at that time. But that day is not today, and hopefully when that day does come, inventors have figured out how to make alternatives a viable source of energy.

Until that day arrives, off-shore drilling, oil shale and nuclear energy should all be part of a national energy policy.

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