Rather than protesting further offshore drilling, isn’t it better to channel activism towards a long-term sustainable energy strategy in national policy? Practically speaking, America’s current need for domestic oil outweighs the potential for disaster. As an oil junkie nation that’s spent the past five decades building an entire infrastructure around oil, there are frightening few options.
The US is the largest energy consumer, ranking seventh in energy consumption per capita in the world in 2005. The majority of this energy is derived from fossil fuels: in 2005, it was estimated that 40% of the nation’s energy came from petroleum, 23% from coal, and 23% from natural gas. Nuclear power supplied 8.4% and renewable energy supplied 7.3%, which was mainly from hydroelectric dams although other renewables are included such as wind power, geothermal and solar energy.
55-60% of US consumption is imported at a cost of $50 billion+ per year, amounting to the largest single element of our trade deficit. In 1994, US oil imports exceeded 50% of consumption for the first time. In 1999, US imports were about 11 million barrels per day, compared to our domestic production of 6 million barrels per day.
Again, I can’t agree enough with Chris Nelder on his take on US energy strategy. His piece, Another Wake-Up Call for the World’s Biggest Oil Junkie, is a must-read in its entirety, an excerpt of which is below. And if you haven’t read it yet, here is his letter to Congress on how the energy policy should look.
The eager search for a scapegoat in the wake of the Horizon disaster is a clear sign that America simply doesn’t get it.
After highly visible disasters like the Santa Barbara oil spill of 1969, the Exxon Valdez spill, and now the Horizon spill, the public understands the risk of offshore oil production. What it doesn’t understand– at all– are the choices we now have to make.
Those calling for an end to offshore oil production in the U.S. apparently don’t understand that it accounts for over 30 percent of our domestic supply. They don’t understand that making offshore oil off-limits would be a double-whammy to our pocketbooks, both restricting our income and forcing us to import even more oil at ever-higher prices. They have an inkling that ethanol production is pressuring food supply, but have no concept that the non-food alternatives, like fuel from algae and cellulosic ethanol, are still puny, and a long way from being ready to scale up and replace oil.
Instead of having a rational discussion about how we’re going to manage our remaining offshore oil resources, we look to technology… as if deepwater drillships and blowout preventers and acoustic shutoff switches were the problem, rather than miraculous solutions only a dedicated junkie could love. These technologies don’t fall from the sky. Every safety measure ever invented came as the result of a lesson learned the hard way.
Instead of discussing how we’re going to break our addiction to oil, we turn to politics…as if yelling “Drill, Baby, Drill” or “Spill, Baby, Spill” even louder, or changing tack on our energy policy every four years, could amount to a solution.
All of our politically-driven energy approaches–carbon caps and trading schemes, offshore leases and moratoriums, short-term incentives for renewables, and so on–
are woefully incapable of addressing our long term problem.
It’s easy to vilify oil and its producers, and it’s politically popular to call for an end to drilling, but replacing oil is far more difficult and expensive than anyone seems to understand.