The California State Lands Commission recently voted to reject new offshore oil drilling even though the proposal had wide support, both from the “drill, baby, drill” crowd and enviros. There’s a sentence full of enigmas – – the likes of Exxon and Sierra Club on the same page, but state regulators putting up the barricades?
Turns out that an oil company with existing oil wells in coastal waters had agreed to retire four old wells for each new one permitted, dramatically reducing their footprint over time. That’s why some enviros agreed to the deal, but oil drilling is still….well, oil drilling, so that’s why others objected.
What both sides in this debate miss is this. First, we shouldn’t allow any new oil drilling anywhere until we have a credible plan to end our dependence on oil. I say that not just for environmental and global warming reasons, although that should be enough. We are going to run out of oil that is relatively easy to get (i.e. “cheap”) very soon – – in fact, shortages were starting to occur with uneasy regularity before the recent economic crash abated the demand, thus masking the underlying problem. If we want an economy that can actually work its way out of this mess, now is the time to plan for what’s next – – before we actually need it.
The other thing that the offshore debate missed was that we have no right to protect our precious coastline while destroying someone else’s to save a nickel on a gallon of gas. As you read this, oil companies in Nigeria, Ecuador, Kazakhstan, and lots of other countries that have no State Lands Commission – – or any environmental laws for a Commission to enforce – – are dumping tons of toxic waste in rivers, landfills, along coastlines, in villages, and generally out the back door. Lives are being lost, not just a day at the beach. But when that oil makes it to our refineries and neighborhood gas stations, we will smile smugly, knowing we have protected our coastal habitats and communities.
Shame on us. Moreover, the oil from 12,000 miles away by definition has a greater carbon footprint than oil from 12 miles offshore. Now make no mistake I think the State Lands Commission made the right choice. No more drilling in our waters – – but they need to say we will also take steps to protect everyone else’s coastal waters by developing a plan to end our use of oil soon. In truth we could do it in 5 years with less money than we have spent on bailouts and the Iraq war, spawning a clean renewable jobs program that would keep America economically healthy for a century.
But even with incrementalism, let’s set a goal of ending our use of oil in 20 years and start using the technology we have already developed to make it happen. Technology we already have? Yup – – all-electric cars that run on batteries or hydrogen fuel and fuel cells that took us to the moon 40 years ago; and sustainable biofuels that we now know can be made instead of unsustainable corn ethanol. Mass transit, telecommuting, walkable/bike-friendly communities.
C’mon America, we can do this. We owe it to ourselves and to the people whose lives we are destroying to get our next fix. If we use the current economic crisis as a reason to get started – – and the fact that new wells are not going to be so easy to come by in the future – – then all really will be well that ends well.