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The big offshore lie

By Kate Sheppard

The Obama administration, in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster, has apparently decided that digging in on its misguided decision in March to expand offshore drilling is the way to go.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar dug in to defend the administration's drilling plans last week. "We should be honest with ourselves. … We are dependent on oil and gas and we will be," Salazar told senators. "As an economy in transition, it's something that we need to do." Obama, too, reaffirmed his belief that offshore drilling should remain in the country's energy portfolio in his weekly address Saturday.

But the Obama administration is basing this argument on a dubious premise -- that more drilling will enhance the nation's energy security. Yet drilling offshore here will not do much in that regard, or at least not nearly as much as smarter use of oil would. The U.S. uses 23 percent of total world oil consumption, but has only 3 percent the world’s oil reserves within its borders. Drilling off every coast in the U.S. won’t resolve that issue. Even the most productive portion of the new area opened to drilling in the March announcement, a 24 million acre area of the eastern gulf, is expected to yield only 3.5 billion recoverable barrels of oil. The U.S. consumes 19.5 million barrels of oil per day, which means that these wells would only produce about 180 days worth of oil – hardly worth the catastrophic situation we face in the gulf today.

Far more reduction in our oil imports will come through the fuel efficiency measures that the administration has already taken. The new automobile fuel economy standards for cars and light trucks that the administration outlined last month are anticipated to cut oil use 11.6 billion gallons per year by 2016. The executive order Obama issued to raise mileage standards for heavy trucks could cut oil consumption another 11 billion gallons by 2030. Those are the right steps.

Jonathan Hiskes at Grist sums up the reality of offshore drilling and how much more we could do through additional, meaningful efficiency measures quite nicely here, and offers 10 suggestions for what else the U.S. might do:

Domestic offshore drilling produced 537 million barrels a year over the last nine years, according to the Minerals Management Service. A full-bore efficiency plan would save the equivalent of 85 years of offshore drilling.

The other ideas aren't all that radical: educating people about keeping their tires inflated, improving urban planning, encouraging telecommuting. They're sure a lot less complicated than plugging an oil gusher a mile below the gulf has turned out to be.

Kate Sheppard covers energy and environmental politics in Mother Jones's Washington bureau. For more of her stories, see here, and you can follow her on Twitter here.

By Washington Post editor  |  May 25, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
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The MSM has studiously ignored the fact that the military is predicting oil shortages by 2015 due to falling world production.

Of course Obama is scared to say this out loud, as he should be, but it is pretty clear why we have to both increase efficiency AND drill off-shore. Our civilization depends on it, and once gas is $10 a gallon Americans ain't gonna care about the environmental costs. My biggest question is if the media really going to sleepwalk into this crisis just like they did the Iraq War and the financial meltdown?

Posted by: nathanlindquist | May 25, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Agreed that the Obama administration isn't selling expanded offshore drilling in the most sensible way, although politically it probably makes sense. Energy independence is a nice talking point but it isn't a reality and it won't be one for a very long time, if ever.

The only question is whether the benefits of drilling exceed the costs (and all of the costs). The Obama Administration should give BP a reasonable amount of time to clean this up, and after that time step in itself to finish the job (if need be) and stick BP with the full bill. It should also push forward with a gas tax / cap and trade to internalize the expected internal costs of climate change. If offshore drilling remains profitable on those terms then it should be done, otherwise it shouldn't and won't be done.

Either way, the gulf and other drilling locations should be safer since the oil companies will put a lot of time and effort into safe operation if they end up stuck with the bill from disasters, or they won't drill at all.

Posted by: justin84 | May 25, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

"the military is predicting oil shortages by 2015 due to falling world production. "

if this well cannot be capped, and our precious wetlands, our coast, our wildlife is mutated or begins to vanish....maybe the oil shortages wont matter in 2016.
our technology will take us to the edge of the cliff one day.

Posted by: jkaren | May 25, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

the cleanup is already started.

1000s of people and vast resources have been mobilized.

Regarding the cleanup, the gvmt is doing everything it can right now. If it "stepped in" to take over, it would stop on itself.

Regarding killing the well, if the gvmt stepped in to take over and fire BP, it would then have to immediately rehire the contractors and experts BP has already hired to stop the flow. Yes, the world's experts are already doing what they can to kill the well.

No doubt we'll all soon learn we are deficient or remiss in certain ways, and that we have made mistakes, but that is inevitable in any large-scale human effort.

Posted by: Lomillialor | May 25, 2010 11:11 AM | Report abuse

... never let a crisis go to waste ...

Salazar told senators. "As an economy in transition, it's something that we need to do."

need or want ? these are a means to an end ... which is what ? I mean if we are being honest with ourselves ...

more kicking the can down the road thinking.
At some point we need a cabinet position whose sole purpose is to defend future generations ...
we continue to act irresponsibly in terms of FORCING, based on our current decision making process, obligations on future generations.

crisis, imo ~ but I am a kook, are being created as a means to an end.

still no accountability ... same old crap ...these folks are doing God's work ...or I did what I thought was correct based on my conscious .. how long before the People recognize the People need to stand up and act as Government is not acting in the People's interest ... but in ways that to my eyes involve capture.

The more we know, the more we talk about it and spread the word the more "they" ratchet up the pressure ... of succumb to me.
these are the days that must happen to us.

we are being probed, how are the people going to respond ?

by turning on each other or find common ground, joining together and protecting our rights.

there are no leaders today ... we must act to protect the institutions in place that have not been co-opted by the unseen hand that operates in spheres of influence beyond the voting public's control.

Posted by: AmericanSpirit | May 25, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

@"the military is predicting oil shortages by 2015 due to falling world production. "

due to WHAT ?

is not oil the life's blood of the military industrial complex ? does not the MIC account for > than 50% of US GDP ?

how about looking into the military's daily consumption of oil ... how much on a daily basis does the Military Industrial Complex (MIC) Consume ?

ON a relative scale ... do they account for the WORLDS largest demand of oil ?

more fraud having people think WE THE PEOPLE want or need the energy ...

the MIC needs the oil ... to continue assimilating cultures that reject the velvet glove of Corporate America ... when
when Corporate capture fails in comes the cavalry with it's iron fist crushing all dissenters.

which is a okay in America as we have been conditioned that the ends justifies the means ... as collateral damage is an acceptable part of the process of assimilation; when view from the distance and detached predator class making the decisions behind the curtain..

pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Posted by: AmericanSpirit | May 25, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

@ Lomillialor:

"Regarding killing the well, if the gvmt stepped in to take over and fire BP, it would then have to immediately rehire the contractors and experts BP has already hired to stop the flow. Yes, the world's experts are already doing what they can to kill the well."

Yes, and the Oil Pollution Act (enacted by Congress in 1990 in response to the Exxon Valdez tanker spill) requires that oil companies be responsible for dealing with major accidents (with oversight by federal agencies).

Those who have argued that the Administration should have pushed BP aside and directly taken action in order to cap the leak are arguing not only that somehow the government mysteriously has superior expertise and technology to stop a mile deep underwater gusher, but also that the administration should not have followed the law.

@ nathanlindquist:

"...the military is predicting oil shortages by 2015 due to falling world production."

And destroying the environment to develop paltry amounts of additional oil for the world market is not a solution. The lesson of this disaster is the same as the lesson to be takenfrom the possibility of passing "peak oil" production capacity leading to higher prices. We have to become more efficient, conserve, and develop alternative renewable sources of energy, and we must do so with a sense of urgency.

Big thanks to Kate Sheppard for continuing to discuss the disaster and its implications.

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 25, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Man, talk about tone-deaf.

I can respect that they may honestly believe offshore drilling has energy benefits; however, to take this kind of a political hit for it is surely beyond anything it might merit.

Posted by: adamiani | May 25, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

What color is the sky in your world?
I love the "fact" and date estimates. If something isn't done about our current oil and gasoline need now then it won't matter much what happens in 2016 or 2030. I'm glad Mr Klein and others can live in a world where their energy needs can wait for 6 - 20 years.I guess he assumes that everyone in THIS world can just step into their cryogenic units to sleep until everything begins to pay for itself.
Once again, we have great answers that solve problems in the future but have no real solutions now, when we need it! That's assuming that the whitehouse actually does something useful about this disaster this time around!
Apparently, it took the whitehouse almost 2 weeks before anyone even thought that a massive oil spill in the Gulf was worth looking into. This is the same whitehouse that has repeatedly demanded that BP be held solely responsible for the disaster all the white attempting to make the public believe that they are in charge!AND it is the SAME WHITEHOUSE that dropped the ball on Katrina! Sorry, but most of the public servants (LOL!) in office now were also in office back then
Instead of everyone wallowing about in wishful daydreaming like Mr Klein and the other inhabitants of his world why don't the people we voted into public offices work to find solutions NOW!!
And... anyone thinking that BP will not pass on the cost of this cleanup to the consumer is truly unconscious of how businesses operate.

Posted by: cheshrkat | May 25, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I think the most important argument against drilling there drilling now is that oil under the sea will stay there. Pumping it out, refining and burning it will reduce our energy security.

As I type the Federal government is putting petroleum under the ground in the strategic petroleum reserve. How about leaving it in the outer stratigic petroleum continental shelf ?

Also drilling technology developes so drilliing later doesn't just mean delaying the disasters -- it can mean preventing them. Now no off shore drilling would mean no more development, but developing at a low (not zero) rate of activity is the way we deal with all other risky technologies.

Posted by: rjw88 | May 25, 2010 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Is your car more important than clean air or water? Is it more important than seafood without petroleum toxins in it's tissues? Fortunately this is not the choice we face because we don't get that much oil from offshore drilling. Unfortunately we are facing a polluted Gulf of Mexico and a toxic ecosystem for years. This deal with the devil over offshore drilling doesn't have to be if we were more conservative with our driving habits. If we insist upon higher mileage from our vehicles we can have a cleaner environment and continue to have our personal transportation as before. We can have our cars and clean water too.

Posted by: seemstome | May 25, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

BP won't be able to pass the cost of this on to the consumer, at least not THIS consumer. I would sooner drink a quart of their crude than enter one of their establishments. They have lost a customer for life and I don't think I am alone in this.

Posted by: seemstome | May 25, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

The Military is predicting shortages? Since when is the military the voice of reason? The military only is concerned with preserving it's budget and fighting eternal wars. The people have to realize we can't keep poisoning the water with oil and expect there will be no consequences for our health and our children's lives.

Posted by: seemstome | May 25, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Klein has his head screwed on straight, I just wish there were more like him.

Posted by: seemstome | May 25, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

Drill,baby,drill robots like cheshrat don't know how to spin this into an Obama Katrina but the way he is handling it they won't have to try very hard. Understandably this blowout caught him off guard but he has had a month now to get organized and deal with it but still hasn't been able to be effective. If he has any idea that BP is going to do any better than they have to date he had better get rid of it if this topkill fails. He better get the troops to the Gulf of Mexico and the hell with the Mexican border.

Posted by: seemstome | May 25, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Scientists weigh in on what happens when the oil in the Gulf encounters a hurricane (hurricane “season” officially begins on June 1):

see also:

Posted by: Patrick_M | May 25, 2010 7:58 PM | Report abuse

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