Michele Bachmann’s assertions that opening offshore drilling would “push gas prices back to $2.00 per gallon” in the Star Trib article on June 17, are totally disingenuous, misleading, and highly inaccurate. And now she has been joined in similar claims by President Bush and John McCain.
Since she wrote that, numerous articles have appeared which denounce the idea that opening these regions to new drilling would have such an effect of that magnitude, and that quickly. Additionally, Bachmann, and the others trivialize the environmental ramifications of such an action. How quickly we forget. But, first, let’s deal with the reality of new drilling.
To begin with, most of the “low hanging fruit” has been plucked when it comes to oil exploration. Thus, new finds are going to be expensive to drill, and difficult to recover. Given this scenario, the idea of “cheap” oil is not really a reality, and probably never will be again. And her contention we could see “$2.00 gasoline” is both a myth and misleading. Indeed the industry is fairly maxed out in resources to drill more, and drill fast. With offshore being the major target, highly specialized rigs would be needed to bring that oil to market. Leader in the field is Transocean, Inc. Quoting from their own recent financial reports they are $32 Billion backlogged! Here’s what their own report says:
Outlook: “Drilling Market-Demand for offshore drilling units continues to be strong, particularly for rigs capable of drilling in deepwater. Our High-Specification Floater fleet is fully committed in 2008 and only eight of our High-Specification Floater fleet has any available uncommitted time in 2009. We have only five rigs remaining in our Midwater Floater fleet that have any available uncommitted time left in 2008 and only 16 rigs remaining in this fleet that have any available uncommitted time left in 2009. We have two High-Specification Jackups and 20 Standard Jackups that have uncommitted time left in 2008, and eight High-Specification Jackups and 36 Standard Jackups have uncommitted time left in 2009. Dayrates for new contracts for both floaters and jackups continue to be strong. Our contract backlog at February 20, 2008 was approximately $32 billion, up from approximately $23 billion at October 30, 2007.”
So the idea that any of this oil will come to market fast or cheaply is simply not a fact. Additionally, since over 60% of our oil is imported (and estimated to be up to 75% in a few short years), there is no assurance that imports will not be reduced to counter our own domestic production, in an effort to support pricing. The suppliers of our imports have not shown themselves to be gracious partners; and indeed, Hugo Chavez made just such a threat today (Friday, June 20th) to the Europeans.
Next, is the assertion made by Bachmann, as well as Bush and McCain, that such drilling would be “safe” due to improved drilling techniques? While there is some merit in that claim, the fact is there are a variety of links in the drilling-to-consumption process, which do allow dangerous opportunities for damage and even disaster. Oil produced offshore must first be stored underwater. These storage tanks can leak, and have in the past. Next, it must be transported to shore, in one of two ways: tanker or pipelines. Drilling leaks have been frequent but minor; pipeline leaks have been more serious; but tanker accidents have been disasters. As stated earlier, how quickly we forget – so let me remind you what happened in Santa Barbara a few years ago, as reported by major media:
“An environmental nightmare began in Santa Barbara, California (today). A Union Oil Co. platform stationed six miles off the coast of Summerland suffered a blowout. Oil workers had drilled a well down 3500 feet below the ocean floor. Riggers began to retrieve the pipe in order to replace a drill bit when the “mud” used to maintain pressure became dangerously low. A natural gas blowout occurred. An initial attempt to cap the hole was successful but led to a tremendous buildup of pressure. The expanding mass created five breaks in an east-west fault on the ocean floor, releasing oil and gas from deep beneath the earth.
For eleven days, oil workers struggled to cap the rupture. During that time, 200,000 gallons of crude oil bubbled to the surface and was spread into an 800 square mile slick by winds and swells. Incoming tides brought the thick tar to beaches from Rincon Point to Goleta, marring 35 miles of coastline. Beaches with off-shore kelp forests were spared the worst as kelp fronds kept most of the tar from coming ashore. The slick also moved south, tarring Anacapa Island’s Frenchy’s Cove and beaches on Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands.
Animals that depended on the sea were hard hit. Incoming tides brought the corpses of dead seals and dolphins. Oil had clogged the blowholes of the dolphins, causing massive lung hemorrhages. Animals that ingested the oil were poisoned. In the months that followed, gray whales migrating to their calving and breeding grounds in Baja California avoided the channel —their main route south.”
So, Bachmann’s statements are a classic example of NIMBY (not in my back yard). Before she urges us to start drilling offshore, she should consult with Arnold Schwarzenegger, because he opposes this idea vehemently. And why not? Sure, it is easy for a congresswoman living in mid Minnesota to let the folks in Florida, California and Louisiana to take some risk so she can enjoy cheaper gasoline – but it is their homes, their beaches, and their environment she is risking. I thought as American’s, we were all in this together. Which brings us to Bachmann’s last assertion that “a comprehensive energy policy is needed?”
This is the most irresponsible claim of all, because it is she, and the rest of our leaders, who have let us down. Her throw-away claim has no specifics…no plan…no urgency to develop alternate energy programs; it is political-speak at its worst. We have known about this crisis for decades…and it will take decades to bring alternate energy and freedom from fossil fuels to market. Yet, what we get from our leadership is talk, and no action. There is no coordination for a comprehensive development program. There is little urgency or timetable for execution. Indeed, the Windfall Profit tax she opposed specified funding for alternate energy development. Worse yet, drilling our way out of this crisis is precisely the wrong approach – it merely gives us very short (in human history terms) relief, and lays a long lasting and ultimate solution on future generations, at a far greater cost and significant peril. And, if Bachmann thinks $4.00 gas is expensive now, think of the price in 10, 20, or 30 years when the demand will exceed the supply by a magnitude of several times.
During this political season, Bachmann, Bush and McCain and likely others of both parties will offer simple short term solutions to a problem that has great risks for an oil-dependant civilization as we know it. American’s have a great opportunity to resist those easy Bachmann-type answers, and elect leaders who offer long term and real solutions which will carry us into the future, rather than continuing to repeat the failing policies of the past.