Last night, President Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office to inform us of the steps he’s taken to deal with the horrific oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. To be frank, I didn’t watch. For the 50-plus days oil has been spewing into the Gulf and wrecking local economies and ecologies, I’ve seen his response in action and I haven’t been impressed. Feckless, incompetent half-measures have been matched with an attitude of taking responsibility in name, only.
But, later, I read the speech out of curiosity. Of the many things to say about it (see the links below for good analysis), one item jumped out at me at the point at which the President tried to explain why we were drilling in such risky areas:
After all, oil is a finite resource. We consume more than 20% of the world’s oil, but have less than 2% of the world’s oil reserves. And that’s part of the reason oil companies are drilling a mile beneath the surface of the ocean – because we’re running out of places to drill on land and in shallow water.
(Also here. Emphasis added.)
Huh? To quote the mighty Joe Wilson, “You lie!!”
Okay, maybe he’s not lying, but it’s either that, or he’s ignorant of economics, the recent history of drilling in this country, and the established natural resources of the United States. To be fair, he says “part of the reason,” but it’s a big part of his argument.
And it’s a false part.
Forget for a moment the vast resources sitting off the Atlantic coast, the near-shore Gulf of Mexico, off California, the oil shale of Colorado and neighboring states, and the humongous amount of oil sitting under Alaska and just offshore. Let me provide just one example, which his own Geological Survey could have told him with a 30-second phone call:
In March, 2008, I wrote about the Bakken formation, a large oil bearing area under North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Saskatchewan province. Go ahead, read it for background. I’ll wait.
Ah, you’re back. Okay, so the easily recoverable reserves for just North Dakota were estimated at 660 million barrels. A report from the USGS of about the same time puts the recoverable reserves under North Dakota and Montana at 3-4.3 billion barrels. (See also here) And that still does not include the whole formation. Snopes points out that this would cover US oil imports for roughly only one year, not the 41 years some have hyperventilated over, but that’s a bit of a straw man, for it doesn’t consider other reserves in the US and nearby waters.
But, back to President Obama’s mendacious argument. It’s not that we’re “running out of places to drill;” it’s that government policy has been dominated by environmental reactionaries who opposed any drilling whatsoever onshore and in coastal waters, especially if it gets in the way of the pretty view from their house. That’s been the politics of oil here in California since the 1969 Santa Barbara spill. Since then, even with improvements in drilling technology and safety measures (this latest event aside, US platform drilling has an excellent safety history), it’s been almost impossible to get new drilling off the coast, thanks to a combination of the environmental Left and coastal homeowners playing the role of NIMBY.
It’s this Luddite eco-tyranny that’s lead to drilling in risky areas, such as where the now-destroyed Deepwater Horizon rig was located. By blocking exploration and exploitation in safer, more reasonable areas, the environmentalist Left has helped create the conditions for this catastrophe. No, I’m not excusing BP’s lousy practices or the Fed’s failure to properly supervise them and plan for a catastrophe. But the pressure to drill in riskier deep-water areas, which we first incentivized under Bill Clinton, originated with the anti-oil environmental lobby that has time and again fought to block intelligent exploitation of safer fields, such as ANWR or the coast of California via slant drilling.
So, Mr President, far from running out of places to drill, we have plenty. More than enough to safely supply our oil needs (or more realistically, greatly cushion our dependence on foreign oil) while we work to develop alternative sources of fuel and lubricants that are economically viable.
The Federal government just has to stop barring the door.