Where’s the out­rage at our de­pen­dence on for­eign oil?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Cal Thomas

With gas prices top­ping $4 a gal­lon in some re­gions of the coun­try, now may not be the best time to say some­thing pos­i­tive about “big oil,” but here goes any­way.

Where is it writ­ten that the cost for a prod­uct or ser­vice should be frozen in place and in time, never to rise again, or to rise at a pace com­men­su­rate with our in­comes? Peo­ple who think this way know lit­tle to noth­ing about sup­ply and de­mand and less than noth­ing about the profit mo­tive. That’s be­cause at least three gen­er­a­tions have been raised on the no­tion of en­ti­tle­ment. And when one feels en­ti­tled to some­thing, one be­lieves some­one else should pay.

Se­nate Democrats two weeks ago sought to in­gra­ti­ate them­selves with vot­ers, while do­ing noth­ing to pro­duce more en­ergy, with a familiar at­tack on “big oil.” They want to re­peal $17 bil­lion in tax breaks for the oil com­pa­nies over 10 years and on top of that im­pose a wind­fall profit tax on com­pa­nies that don’t in­vest in new en­ergy sources. This is po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ency at its worst.

Peter Robert­son, vice chair­man of Chevron, told me it’s a myth that oil com­pa­nies are not in­vest­ing in new en­ergy sources. He says last year alone, Chevron spent $20 bil­lion ex­plor­ing new sources of en­ergy.

Mr. Robert­son said Pres­i­dent Bush’s trip last week to Saudi Ara­bia is “highly em­bar­rass­ing” be­cause he is “call­ing on the Saudis to pro­duce more oil when we are not do­ing it our­selves.” The last re­fin­ery built in Amer­ica was in 1976. Tighter gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions are the main rea­son. That’s how un­se­ri­ous we are about our en­ergy “cri­sis.”

Mr. Robert­son said there would be plenty of oil avail­able to the United States if the oil com­pa­nies were al­lowed to get it: “Eighty-five per­cent of off­shore oil is off-lim­its.” Re­spond­ing to ob­jec­tions to off­shore drilling by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and their al­lies in Congress, Mr. Robert­son noted that some of the strong­est pro-en­vi­ron­ment na­tions in Europe — he men­tions Den­mark, Nor­way, the United King­dom — lease off­shore lo­ca­tions for oil ex­plo­ration. The tech­nol­ogy has be­come so good, he said, that dur­ing Hur­ri­canes Ka­t­rina and Rita, “1,000 off­shore wells were de­stroyed [in the Gulf of Mex­ico], but not one leaked.” Aus­tralia, he said, has al­lowed off­shore drilling for 40 years with­out any en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age.

In ad­di­tion to the sink­ing value of the dol­lar, here is the main prob­lem: Ac­cord­ing to the En­ergy De­part­ment, U.S. oil pro­duc­tion has fallen about 40 per­cent since 1985, while the con­sump­tion of oil has grown more than 30 per­cent.

Ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment es­ti­mates, there is enough oil in ar­eas ac­ces­si­ble to Amer­ica — 112 bil­lion bar­rels — to power more than 60 mil­lion cars for 60 years. The Outer Con­ti­nen­tal Shelf alone con­tains an es­ti­mated 86 bil­lion bar­rels of oil and 420 tril­lion cu­bic feet of nat­u­ral gas. Had Pres­i­dent Clin­ton not ve­toed ex­plo­ration in the Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in 1995, when oil was $19 a bar­rel, Amer­ica would cur­rently re­ceive more than 1 mil­lion bar­rels a day do­mes­ti­cally, all of it via bet­ter tech­nol­ogy than ex­isted more than 30 years ago. That was when the Alaskan pipe­line was built de­spite protests from en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists who claimed it would de­stroy the cari­bou. It didn’t, but the en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists are back with the same dis­cred­ited ar­gu­ments. Be­cause most of the oil re­mains “off-lim­its,” we are be­com­ing more de­pen­dent on for­eign oil.

No, we can’t “drill our way out” of our ad­dic­tion to oil, but we can make the tran­si­tion to other en­ergy sources eas­ier while less­en­ing our de­pen­dence on for­eign oil and prop­ping up dic­ta­tors who use our money to sub­si­dize ter­ror­ists. A slow tran­si­tion will also give us time to con­sider more fuel-ef­fi­cient cars and greater use of pub­lic trans­porta­tion, even bi­cy­cles for short trips. Bikes would help more of us lose weight and get in shape. A friend bikes to work ev­ery day, sav­ing gas, car pay­ments, in­sur­ance and re­pair costs.

The specter of a pres­i­dent of the United States go­ing hat-in­hand to Saudi Ara­bia to plead for more (and more ex­pen­sive) oil from the dic­ta­tor­ship that un­der­writes an ex­treme form of Is­lam that is out to kill us is ob­scene. Pres­i­dent Bush should be ral­ly­ing Amer­i­cans, not em­brac­ing peo­ple who don’t al­low women to drive cars.

Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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