Hundred-dollar oil means, among other things, extremely high prices for those, mostly in the Northeast, who rely on home heating oil. Three dollar gasoline means, among other things, a couple of hundred dollars more a month out of many families’ pocketbooks just to get to work and back. It also means higher prices for just about every other good and service whose providers also have to pay more at the pump.
On nearly every political street corner, one can hear the chorus, “Less dependence on foreign oil.” Some folks actually believe the path to self-sufficiency runs through the corn belt. Others are convinced we need electric cars – or hydrogen fuel cells to power our engines. Still others believe we should learn to walk or ride a bike.
No one has had the wherewithal to suggest the U.S. changes its mind about oil and gas production offshore, in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve, or even in Wyoming and its environs, which have huge reserves of shale oil. Not since the Democrats took back Congress has such a practical solution even been proffered.
So what are we doing? Well, President Bush has – with little success — pleaded with the Saudis and their OPEC compadres to increase crude oil production. I only wish the Saudis had told the President that if you want more oil on the market, start producing more at home. But of course we are making some small efforts to do so.
The University of Texas is managing a new research consortium seeking to find ways to use nanotechnology to recover still more oil and gas from existing, low-producing oilfields. Great news for Texas producers – every dollar counts. But far less money could yield far more oil from offshore Florida, for example, where Cuba is already planning to drill. Or from ANWR. But who knows? Maybe nanotechnology could make shale oil extraction cheaper and easier, too.
And while the use of corn to produce ethanol might be appealing to some, one wonders how long it will be before environmentalists measure the costs of killing off a good bit of the marine life in the Gulf of Mexico? After all, we shut down dairy farms over a little funny-tasting water. So it is not hard to imagine there will, in time, be protests launched over the need to protect our seafood industry and those whose lives depend on oxygenated water in the Gulf.
Hundred dollar oil. Three dollar gasoline. And now the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission wants another 40 cents a gallon in federal taxes to pay for highway maintenance? Meanwhile, we are raising the CAFÉ standards, and some argue for a literal end to the gasoline-powered engine. Yet no one even speculates about how we might secure highway maintenance dollars from electric-powered cars.
But surely, I am asked, you must believe we need to “go beyond” petroleum? But of course, I reply – someday, maybe. So here’s one idea. Increase oil and gas drilling on federal lands and waters so that our government can rake in royalties that can be directly funneled into research and development to make new energy and fuel sources more competitive. [Similarly, mining federal coal could provide revenues for clean-coal technology improvements.]
Short-term, though, we need to cut transportation costs for Americans. I just happen to believe Tom Petty’s immortal words – “I Won’t Back Down” – have some validity in the world oil market. Plus the old saw, “Put up or shut up.” Which means that simply opening up ANWR and offshore oilfields to domestic production could have a major impact on inflated worldwide oil prices. It would put more Americans to work, too – in this time of inflation and recession “fueled” by high oil prices and the slumping housing market.
I am flat out tired of our government officials, our Congress, our policy makers and even our Presidential candidates, none of whom seem willing to address energy costs and energy supply in a thoughtful manner. Today’s soiree circuit seems oblivious to the law of unintended consequences – which of course are supposed to be a major consideration in determining environmental impacts of new technology or new projects.
With that in mind, did anyone even perform an Environmental Impact Statement to determine the true costs to the environment of our new corn-based ethanol mandate? The raise-the-gasoline-tax idea in times like these is so akin to the idea that higher cigarette taxes will generate a steady income stream for social programs or schools. But how many Americans today even understand the law of supply and demand? When you raise the price, people buy less – and hence net revenues may go down, not up.
Maybe I am not the world’s greatest environmentalist. But I am trying. Got behind the wheel of a Prius the other day – for about two minutes – at an airport car rental outlet. They were discounting the rental cost per day – a sign that they have few takers for these odd beasts. I could not drive the infernal thing out of the parking lot – much less across country to New Mexico and back. It was like being in a trolley car – or worse. I saw myself being eaten by an 18-wheeler while trying to figure out the controls (not to mention the driving). It was then I realized that the Prius is a car for the video games generation – of which I am not a member.
Duggan Flanakin, based in Austin, Texas, serves as a CFACT environmental programs officer.