This week, a handful of GOP lawmakers will introduce bills to accelerate the pace of offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and open more American waters to development. These representatives claim that the Obama administration has unfairly locked up the Gulf of Mexico and that we need more drilling to drive down gas prices.
Let’s be clear here. The temporary moratorium Obama enacted in the wake of the biggest peacetime oil spill in history did not shut down a single producing well. It only covered new drilling, and just 30 new wells were put on hold as a result—wells that might or might not have been successful.
In the meantime, the Gulf of Mexico continued to produce record amounts of oil. By October of 2010, the region had churned out 502 million barrels of oil. That’s on track to match the 569 million barrels from 2009 and well beyond the 422 million from 2008.
Let’s be clear about something else as well. No matter how much we drill in American waters, we still won’t have the power to influence oil prices.
According to the Energy Information Administration, drilling in previously closed ocean areas “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production…before 2030.” Even then, “because oil prices are determined on the international market …any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.”
The oil industry has ample access to offshore resources in the Gulf: Companies can drill within 37 million acres as long as they follow new safeguards designed to protect workers and the environment from another deadly blowout.
Yet to hear oil executives talk, you would think they were being victimized.
The industry that received $51 billion in federal subsidies and favorable tax treatment—in addition to the investment and manufacturing tax breaks available to all businesses—between 2002 and 2008, says the government is treating it unfairly.
The industry that is enjoying higher domestic oil production now than it was under the Bush Administration continues to say the White House is strangling drilling.
The industry that reduced its U.S. workforce by 10,200 employees between 2005 and 2009 is suddenly concerned about the projected job loss from 30 new wells that went momentarily quiet.
And the industry responsible for jeopardizing the Gulf’s fishing and tourism industries says it should be treated better in the region.
Some lawmakers have joined Big Oil’s pity party. Mississippi Representative Gregg Harper wrote an op ed a few weeks ago complaining about the moratorium in the Gulf without once mentioning the reasons it was issued in the first place: the blowout that sent 200 million gallons of oil into the sea and the systemic failures in industry and government that led to the disaster.
It’s like a repeat drunk driver who can’t understand why the DMV suspended his license for a few months.
In a sense, we have created this monster. As I write in my book, In Deep Water: The Anatomy of a Disaster, the Fate of the Gulf, and How to End our Oil Addiction, our entire civilization is so heavily dependent upon the companies that provide us with oil that we seldom even question what they do or how they do it.
Rather than working to reduce our dependence on oil, we’ve asked the oil companies to feed it, with little concept of what that requires––from us or the people who provide us with oil––or what it demands in return. Rather than using that oil carefully and efficiently, in ways that reflect both the remarkable substance it genuinely is and the challenges and risks of obtaining it, we often waste it in inefficient cars and trucks and other energy drains.
The BP disaster brought home the true price of this blind addiction: 11 men dead, livelihoods ruined, cultural traditions lost, and an entire region plagued with uncertainty.
We don’t have to keep bearing these costs. We can embrace the many clean transportation solutions available right now, and we can strengthen the government’s ability to oversee the oil industry. And we can remember who the real victims of the Gulf tragedy are.