Every time someone suggests that perhaps we should lift some of the restrictions that have hamstrung the nation’s oil production there are a thousand voices screaming no. The environmentalists say no. The ethanol industry cries no. The politicians reacting to each of these shake their heads no. The speculators who make their money off high oil shout no.
The excuses are endless as to why drilling offshore or on the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge or wherever would do little to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lessen the intense pain of expensive gasoline. It would take years for this oil exploration to pay off, they say, echoing exactly their excuses years ago. New refineries and nuclear power plants are far too dangerous, they argue. We have to look for alternative fuels, and build cars that get more miles to the gallon than the current models.
But how long would that take? It’s coming, it’s coming is the vague reply.
We have to grow more corn or use grass or something to create G85 Ethanol or develop cars that run on water and batteries or air or something even more exotic. We have to tap the vast oil shale beds that have enough oil to meet our needs for several hundred years. But, wait, 40 years ago the oil barons and economists contended that if petroleum ever reached $30 a barrel, it would be economically feasible to begin commercial oil shale operations. Then that benchmark got lifted to $50 and then $60 and on and on. Well, how about $135 and still no shale oil.
Lets build a pipeline from some place to some place like that one that is so environmentally friendly in Alaska. That would be nice, but only if there were oil and gas to pump through it.
So those who see some hope in the sudden efforts of the Bush administration and the proposals by Sen. John McCain to lift the ban on offshore exploration and drilling in an area of the continental shelf that is believed to contain untold fossil fuel riches, better forget it. Already Sen. Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee and the front-runner in the polls, has made it clear he doesn’t buy into any of these ideas.
Drill for oil? Are you nuts? That’s for the dark ages and won’t put a dent in our needs. Besides, the voracious oil companies and speculating profiteers would just sell it overseas. Oh, yeah. Have you heard the one about the oil spill?
In the meantime, the anguish and economic dislocation caused by seemingly uncontrollable pricing goes on. Suddenly, the only transportation we can count on for long hauls — the airline industry — is in such bad shape because of the preposterous fuel costs there are dire predictions about losing one or more of the country’s so called "legacy" carriers. You know, the big boys like American, Delta, Continental or United. Even if they survive the cost of a ticket might be out of the reach of a great segment of the population, taking us back to the day when air travel was so expensive few could afford it. In those days at least there were rails.
Certainly the number of cities that depend on the legacy airlines would be drastically reduced and the number of flights cut as much as half or even two thirds, leaving the residents of even some sizable communities isolated, except for the highways where no one can afford to drive. They could always take the bus, you say. Right. But what company can afford to meet the pump costs?
The need for a comprehensive energy plan is overwhelming. Yet we have none and every effort to remedy that results in accusations about who had a hand in it and who will benefit the most with no resolution in sight. Congress fiddles while Americans burn fuel approaching $5 a gallon. There must be an answer somewhere that makes sense. Could it be solved if our elected officials said as they did about traveling to the moon: OK, we’ll try to keep politics out of this equation for the national good with every special interest giving up something.
Can either Obama or McCain bring this detente about? That’s probably going to be the number one question in the campaign for the dubious honor of leading the nation the next four years. Lyndon Johnson used to say, "Come let us reason together." Could there be a better time?
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)