SID SALTER: Why America can't stop gulf drilling

By Sid Salter

The environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico comes just weeks after President Obama had announced a new policy of expanded offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, on the Atlantic coastline and on the north coast of Alaska.
That announcement angered many of Obama’s supporters and infuriated environmentalists. But the Obama administration had hoped the new policy would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil imports, generate badly needed new government revenues from the sale of offshore leases and soften up conservative political opposition to more comprehensive energy “reforms” like so-called “cap and trade.”
No drilling leases?
Now, Obama is back-pedaling from those new policies in the face of the Deepwater Hampørizon oil spill. Environmentalists are pointing to the spill as evidence supporting their opposition to any new offshore drilling.
In addition, Obama on Friday declared that no new offshore oil drilling leases be issued unless the drilling rigs have new technological safeguards to prevent a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon explosion that unleashed the massive 5,000 barrel-per-day oil spill now fouling the Gulf Coast.
Mississippi is bracing for some of the worst of the environmental impact. While Hurricane Katrina still technically ranks as the worst natural disaster in American history, it’s clear that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may well visit the worst environmental plague on the very same region just five years after Katrina did her worst.
But the notion that America should fail to go forward with plans for continued offshore drilling for oil and natural gas is a shortsighted overreaction to the oil spill.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, America is still dependent on foreign oil for 57 percent of the nation’s net petroleum. There’s a math problem at work here – the U.S. produces 10 percent of the world’s petroleum while consuming 23 percent of it.
Consumption
Net imports in 2008 were just over 11 million barrels per day. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in 1989 was about 260,000 barrels of oil.
On Friday, The Coast Guard said the Deepwater Horizon spill was up to an estimated 210,000 gallons or about 5,000 barrels of crude oil leaked into the Gulf – or about 2 percent of the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez.
But after Exxon Valdez, Americans did nothing to reduce their consumption of petroleum. American has consistently become increasingly dependent on foreign oil.
Talking about increasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil in lunacy in the post 9-11 world. America can’t stop offshore drilling and shouldn’t.
Can it be made safer? Yes.
But until U.S. consumption decreases, drill we must unless we want to surrender U.S. energy security without a whimper. That’s reality.
Contact Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail ssalter@clarionledger.com. He is Perspective editor at the Clarion-Ledger and a syndicated columnist.