Let’s drill the tundra

How much more pain must Americans endure before our masters in Washington let oil companies punch a few holes in the Alaskan tundra? Must we shiver pennilessly in the dark before we may extract new domestic petroleum deposits? Or shall we simply keep buying $111 barrels of oil from people who want us dead?

In case Congress missed the news, three U.S. airlines went broke last week. Aloha, ATA, and Skybus blamed in part unaffordable fuel as they grounded their jets. Aloha said sayonara to 1,900 employees, NBC News reports. ATA’s demise destroyed 2,200 jobs, while Skybus sacked 450 workers, atop the 80,000 positions lost across the economy as unemployment spiked from 4.8 percent in February to 5.1 in March.

Losing these airlines likely will boost plane-ticket prices, which already have climbed alongside fuel bills. Since April 4, 2007, a gallon of jet fuel has risen 62 percent to $3.22. The International Air Transport Association calculates that jet fuel will cost airlines worldwide an extra $56 billion in 2008 versus 2007. Having ditched complimentary meals, movies, and even pillows on many flights, there is little left for embattled carriers to curtail, as their chief expense goes sky high.

What’s next? Bring your own seat belt?

The situation on land is equally grim.

Independent truckers have staged work stoppages to showcase their plight. Typical big-rig drivers who spent $837 to fill 250-gallon fuel tanks a year ago pay $1,189 today — up 42 percent.

As of Monday, automobile drivers paid a record average of $3.33 per gallon for self-serve gasoline, up 53 cents in 12 months, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Faced with this real, human suffering, the Democratic Congress manages merely to whine about oil companies’ “obscene” profits.

“This whole situation has been nothing more than manipulation around greed,” Rep. John Larson (D – Connecticut) bellowed at a March 31 House hearing.

Politicians and journalists who obsess over “X-rated” oil profits leer at numerators, not denominators. Take industry giant Exxon/Mobil. Its profits are like a pair of size-22 shoes: Massive in isolation, but much more modest when parked beneath Shaquille O’Neal’s 7′-1″ frame.

Exxon’s $40.6 billion profit for 2007 is dwarfed by its $404.5 billion revenue and $199.5 billion crude-oil expense. Of course Exxon’s sales have swelled: Americans pay more for gasoline as OPEC charges record cartel prices for crude, and rising global demand exceeds stagnant supplies. While Exxon’s 10 percent profit outpaces the oil industry’s 8.3 percent average gain, Coca-Cola’s 20.7 percent profit margin and Microsoft’s 27.5 percent turnover should make Exxon’s executives jealous. When will Congress denounce Coke and Microsoft’s “corporate pillage?”

For once, Congress should behave constructively:

— Approve new Alaskan oil drilling already. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s pertinent parcel covers just 2,000 acres — a veritable raindrop in the Olympic swimming pool that is Alaska’s 365-million-acre territory. ANWR’s estimated 10.4 billion barrels could match or replace for 19 years the 1.5 million barrels of Saudi oil that America imports daily.

No one wants to rape Alaska’s wilderness. Environmentally friendly techniques direct numerous drill bits sideways, like covert tentacles, from a handful of surface holes. Allegedly fragile caribou seem quite aroused by all this. Their Central Arctic Herd has quintupled from 6,000 in 1978 to 32,000 today. Meanwhile, petroleum development hums at Alaska’s nearby Prudhoe Bay.

— Deregulate the construction of new oil refineries, something unseen since 1976.

— To encourage new atomic-power plants, stop debating and start storing radioactive waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain facility. In return, give Silver State residents free electricity.

— If it’s too much to drill more offshore oil, at least withdraw more natural gas. At worst, gas leaks neither blanket beaches nor smother seagulls.

Planes, trains, and automobiles someday may operate on fuel squeezed from shredded junk mail and pulverized rap CDs. Until then, refined petroleum propels vehicles today. And yet oil languishes beneath our sovereign soil, even as Americans go jobless and our republic meanders into recession.

Will we finally grow up and harness our resources, or will we childishly weep over imaginary threats to wildlife, dispatch supertankers of cash to the Middle East, and watch our petrodollars sponsor bomb belts and exploding aircraft?

Merely asking this question illustrates how desperately this nation needs adult supervision.

(Deroy Murdock is a columnist with Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. E-mail him at deroy.Murdock(at)gmail.com)