Read Eric's bio and previous columns


June 23, 2008

More Drilling Is Not the Answer


Letís ask ourselves a very simple question: What if gas prices donít come down?


Yes, I know, the question has been asked and answered. Gas prices arenít going to come down, at least not by a great deal. Despite talk of a bogeyman called The Speculator, the Energy Department recently warned that we should expect gasoline to stay $4 a gallon through next year.


This is coupled by other rising energy costs. For homes that are heated all winter long via natural gas, there is already talk of another sharp spike in those prices, as well.


If a silver lining exists, it is that this has returned the topic of energy to the nationís lips. In its wake have come a whole host of ideas.


Some of them are bad, like drilling in areas now protected. Not only do Energy Department estimates tell us that the oil wouldnít be forthcoming for at least a decade, but that it wouldnít in the long run have much impact on the worldwide price of oil. It also deflects the debate from the real issue, which is how to fix the structural problems with how we provide ourselves with energy.


This doesnít mean that drilling should be entirely off the table, only that it isnít a solution to anything. Anyway, if the oil companies wish to make a more credible case for this, theyíd explore and drill the lands for which they already hold leases, which are estimated to hold more substantial reserves of oil than are available off-shore and in the Alaska wilderness.


Big picture planning is not something that Americans have traditionally gone in for. Itís something that routinely gets denounced as anti-market and oftentimes as outright socialism.


Iíll leave the name calling to others, but I do think itís worth noting that faith in the market has gotten us precisely to where weíre at now, reliant on an unstable part of the world and without the means to wean us from that fealty in the short-term.


A plan does not necessarily require central control. It should encourage investment in a way that doesnít repeat the stampede for ethanol, support for which has rapidly evaporated as its serious problems come to light.


Here are three things that a comprehensive energy strategy should include Ė transportation, community planning and agriculture.


Transportation is obvious, but aggressively investing in public transportation Ė specifically rebuilding the nationís rail network Ė would promise the best short-term relief for families bogged down by gas prices. That is, if you canít do anything about the price of gasoline, make it so people donít have to buy so much by providing ways for them to get around.


This also plays into community planning. The nationís downtowns have fallen into disrepair because cheap gas has allowed people to flee urban problems rather than deal with them. Itís also led to communities where people live miles from where they shop, miles from where they work and miles from where their kids go to school. While itís sensible to not place a paper mill next to an elementary school, it is not sensible to force people to drive to regular destinations.


But, what is little discussed is the role of fossil fuels in providing us with food. Agriculture ships food thousands of miles, and natural gas is itself converted to anhydrous ammonia, one of the most widely used fertilizers.


It could be, in the end, that the best course of action requires tapping into reserves. Oil will be a part of the energy picture for a very long time. If, indeed, itís projected that weíll need that oil in two decades, when it will be most reliably available, then itís work that needs to get under way now. But itís not the answer. Itís not even a big part of the answer, and the question itself is big enough and far-reaching enough not to pretend that it is.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # EB058. Request permission to publish here.

Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jamie Weinstein
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
Cindy Droog
D.F. Krause