Offshore Oil Drilling

2010 Gulf Oil Spill

It is a huge embarrassment for US President Barack Obama that he proposed – admittedly under pressure from the Republican opposition – to expand offshore oil drilling greatly just before the BP catastrophe struck.

I didn’t make a post about it at the time, but I never understood why he did this. He pushed his health care package through congress without considering anything else for almost a year, and then, as soon as he got what he wanted (or as close as he could ever get to what he wanted) then he decided to appease his opponents. I could understand it if he tried to appease his opponents by throwing them this bone in order to get some leverage for the health care debate, and maybe that is what actually happened behind closed doors. I doubt it though, because if that was the deal, some embattled senator somewhere would have used that as a reason to support the “unpopular” health care bill. I can’t fathom what made him change his mind about drilling.

Back when the story about Obama being for drilling first broke and during the election, I was not against offshore drilling. What I am against is “drill baby drill” as a solution to our energy crisis. As covered in this long ago post about a talk given by a chief BP scientist that I was at:

[Given the] types and quantities of unconventional oil [that] are available at [certain] price points… [and] if the world can handle stable $140 a barrel oil there are literally trillions of barrels of unconventional oil that are profitable.

Some of that oil is deep under the ocean, and I’m sure that we will someday need it. To get it, we have to pay for it with higher prices. Apparently we also risk what is currently occurring. The point is that we don’t need it now. Luckily the spill did happen, and despite the fact that it made my guy look pretty stupid, and could easily destroy much of the environment and economy right where I grew up, it may propel us in the right direction.

Now all bets are off. In the United States, offshore drilling seems set to go the way of nuclear power, with new projects being shelved for decades. And, as is often the case, a crisis in one country may go global, with many other countries radically scaling back off-shore and out-of-bounds projects.

What we do, in fact, need are artificially high energy prices, not all at once, but gradually, forcing us to follow a more sustainable path. It’s awful that this spill had to occur to show the opposition and Obama what a folly it is to drill more now, but if it leads to higher energy prices in the long run maybe some good will have come of it.

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