Thursday, June 19, 2008

Pandering To Big Oil

Pandering To Big Oil

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President Bush, "reversing a longstanding position," called yesterday for an end to the federal ban on offshore oil drilling and reaffirmed his call to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Bush's flip-flop followed an even more egregious policy shift by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who pushed for offshore drilling in a speech before oil executives in Houston on Tuesday, though he had campaigned against it as recently as three weeks ago. Following Bush and McCain's lead, a number of conservatives reversed their former opposition to offshore drilling, including Florida's Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Sen. Mel Martinez (R) and Rep. Connie Mack (R). Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been leading the charge to expand domestic drilling, with his "Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less" campaign. Yet the election-year gimmick of expanding offshore drilling does nothing to solve America's energy crisis, nor will it have an ameliorating effect on soaring gas prices. Under McCain's assumption of 21 billion barrels of oil in the banned areas -- higher than the Department of Energy's estimation of 18 billion barrels -- there is still only enough to support America's total consumption, at 7.5 billion barrels per year, for three years. The bottom line is that America consumes 25 percent of the world's oil but has just 3 percent of the world's reserves, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pointed out. "We cannot drill our way out of this problem," he said. David Sandalow, a Brookings Institution energy expert, said of offshore drilling, "It's like walking an extra 20 feet a day to lose weight. It's just not enough to make a difference."

ACCOMPLISHES NOTHING: Over two years ago, Bush declared, "America is addicted to oil." But the latest Bush-McCain proposal will do nothing to solve that problem. "Feeding that addiction by tapping another vein just drills us into a deeper hole," said Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ). Bush declared that expanded drilling would "bring enormous benefits to the American people." In his Tuesday speech, McCain explained his flip-flop by saying he wanted to "address the concerns of Americans, who are struggling right now to pay for gasoline." Yet as the New York Times writes today of expanding offshore drilling, "This is worse than a dumb idea. It is cruelly misleading." The Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicted that "access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030." Even McCain's own top economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin said offshore drilling would have "no immediate effect" on gas prices. Just yesterday, McCain seemed to reverse his long-standing opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- something Bush continued to push for in his speech -- even as he declared Tuesday that the "next president must be willing to break with the energy policies...of the current Administration." Bush's own Department of Energy estimated that drilling in the Arctic refuge would cut oil prices by only about 75 cents a barrel. What's more, even if the refuge were opened this year, its extracted oil would not reach the market for 10 years.

FALSE ARGUMENTS: Bush blamed "Democrats on Capitol Hill" who he said "have rejected virtually every proposal" to increase oil production, adding "now Americans are paying the price at the pump for this obstruction." Congress is not blocking domestic drilling. In fact, the number of drilling permits both on- and off-shore has exploded from 3,802 five years ago to 7,561 in 2007. Congress and the Bush administration have opened up so much land to drilling that oil companies can't keep up: In the last four years, the government has issued 28,776 permits to drill on public land, yet only 18,954 wells were actually drilled. Congressional obstruction is just one of the false arguments conservatives are peddling. Another is the idea that we can drill and still "ensure that our environment is protected." McCain declared drilling is so "safe" that "not even Hurricane Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage from battered rigs off the coasts of New Orleans and Houston." This is patently false. Hurricane Katrina caused 44 oil spills, resulting in more than seven million gallons of oil spilled, according to the Coast Guard., nearing the nine million gallons spilled in the 1989 Exxon-Valdez disaster.

BOON FOR BIG OIL: "The only real beneficiaries will be the oil companies that are trying to lock up every last acre of public land before their friends in power -- Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney -- exit the political stage," the New York Times writes today. It is not surprising that oil executives praised the idea when McCain presented it to them on Tuesday. Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corp. CEO Jim Hackett called McCain's drilling plan "a positive development for American consumers," adding, "We need to get serious about producing our own resources for the benefit of Americans." Larry Nichols, CEO of Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy, called McCain's proposals a "truly honest assessment of what our energy policies have been and need to be." Big Oil has also vigorously backed McCain's campaign. McCain ranks second in the Senate for donations from the energy industry and has raised over $700,000 from oil and gas this election season alone.

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