Thursday, April 1, 2010

Editorial: Shift on drilling for oil is welcome

The unnamed Courier editor is mystified as to why the Obama administration might be willing to allow oil drilling off the East Coast and north of Alaska.

"Why the sudden change? We're going broke and supporting countries that harbor terrorists otherwise," he writes, giving himself a pat on the back for a pat answer. It's almost unsporting to point out that no, what the administration has done, even if it results in lots of new oil platforms dotting the continental shelves, will not begin to reduce oil importation or significantly change the country's economic prospects. There simply isn't enough oil there to make much difference, and getting the things built and producing takes many years. The arguments against it during the Bush administration still make the same amount of sense.

From what I've seen, the President is looking at two factors. In practical terms, well-run environmentally safe operations could be producing much higher-priced oil 15 or 20 years from now, when supplies are clearly dwindling worldwide and we'll still be shifting to sustainable energy sources. I suspect that despite the vast areas tagged for potential leasing, very few locations will both have useful oil in the ground and be suitable for extraction given environmental factors, so let's not get all twisted up in rosy (or nightmarish) scenarios just yet. I'll have a lot more trust in this administration to put rules in place to ensure that the southeast coast doesn't wind up looking like Alaska after the Valdiz than I would the Bush administration, which would have happily converted the Washington Monument into a derrick if it thought there were two barrels of oil under it somewhere.

The second and far more important factor is taking the issue away from the "drill, baby, drill" Republicans. With this move the President has effectively eliminated the criticism that he's only interested in solar panels on hippie domes as an energy policy. The Southeast can hope for thousands of jobs in building and operating rigs someday (not incidentally helping rebuild New Orleans as well), plus perhaps more environmental survey, assessment and monitoring jobs, building up a more useful and needed industry. It will also embarrass the financial Morlocks when they get what they've been saying they wanted all these years but won't actually take the financial risk and follow through. There's not enough oil there, see. The same goes for those Republican-run coastal states when the rich Republican folks in the beachfront condos start standing up for their right to a clear horizon and clean sand.

This will bring in better results for Democrats at the midterms, and could pull enough Dem votes together on energy to push through some more serious reforms quickly.

As for the editor's confidence that "Republicans surely will back Obama," I'm afraid he's in for disappointment on that score. The Reps have chosen a strategy -- no -- and they will be sticking with it at least until they take another drubbing in November. The current crop has neither the ideas nor the imagination to do otherwise.

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