The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Offshore Drilling: Not Off Our Shores

3 min read

By Ryan Marr

At the Republican National Convention this past summer, crowds took to passionately shouting, “Drill, Baby, Drill!” in response to their party’s plans for energy development over the next four years.

Sadly enough, with gas prices reaching a staggering nationwide average of $4.11 a gallon in July, it’s a sentiment that has risen dramatically even among non-partisans thanks largely to the empty rhetoric of politicians who seem to have sacrificed the future of our country at the altar of their own political careers.

On one end of the political spectrum, the McCain campaign has built a rallying point around inciting the public’s belief in the absurd notion that domestic drilling will somehow directly lower prices at the pump.

And on the other hand, Barack Obama, once a fierce opponent of offshore drilling, now supports limited drilling in an effort to appease the voting public’s demand for a short-term energy solution.

With the economy in shambles it’s no surprise that politicians on both sides of the aisle have latched on to the salient issue of offshore drilling to exploit Americans facing poverty at the mercy of crude oil prices.

Granted, there’s nothing newsworthy about slick-talking politicos spinning the facts, but the public’s current blind acknowledgement of domestic offshore drilling as a short term solution to the energy crisis is unnerving to say the least.

In July, 73 percent of those surveyed in a poll by CNN listed themselves as “favoring increased offshore drilling for natural oil and gas.”

Bolstered by similar polls and a growing sense of financial insecurity among Americans, the White House is finally finding support for its entirely baseless claim that, in the short term, offshore drilling will lower prices at the pump and match current American production for the next ten years.

In an attempt to legitimize their argument, the Bush administration cites 2007 statistics by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) that an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil lies untapped in banned waters.

The administration neglected to address the rest of the EIA report, however, which stated that removing restrictions on offshore drilling would have no effect on domestic oil production until 2017, and even then, prices at the pump would drop only a few cents.

And that’s not to mention inestimable damage to miles of fragile coastal ecosystems that stem from oil rigs, pipelines, petrochemical plants, and the miles of canals dug to transport petroleum.

Oil industry standards may have come a long way since the 1969 Unocal spill when three million gallons of oil blackened the beaches of Santa Barbara, California, but that doesn’t guarantee that the drilling process is now safe.

In fact, according to the Minerals Management Service, a 1000 barrel oil spill is expected annually in the Gulf of Mexico for the next 40 years. Every three to four years, they say, a spill of at least 10,000 barrels can be expected.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration’s call for an end to the 27-year-old moratorium on offshore drilling was answered on Sept. 16, when the House, fearful of constituent repercussions, omitted a renewal of the ban from an annual spending bill for the first time since 1981.

The ban expired Sept. 30, leaving the fate of our nation’s coastal waters entirely in the hands of the next administration—a frightening thought, considering their vested interest in reelection come 2012.

However, with gas prices dropping significantly in recent weeks without any assistance from domestic oil reserves—the national average was a mere $2.59 a gallon last Wednesday— the enthusiasm behind the mindless maxim “drill, baby, drill!” will surely wane.

America deserves a future of energy independence, and while there’s no short-term miracle cure on the table quite yet, the notion that we can drill our way out of this mess is a delusion to which we can no longer afford to subscribe.

Proponents of lifting the drilling ban argue that it will weaken our dependence on oil from hostile foreign regimes, and there may be some truth to that claim.
But it’s the oil— not its source— that has a stranglehold on American culture. Drilling merely pushes the inevitable challenges of a petroleum-free-world onto the shoulders of future generations.

Instead, it’s about time this country harnessed the fear that comes with an economic recession into a more proactive impetus for a serious shakedown of our own oil-weaned American lifestyles.