Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drill, baby, drill?

The Coast Guard is burning off an oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico, hoping to prevent it from reaching fragile wetlands along the gulf coast.

The BP oil platform explosion, collapse and leak is shaping up to be one of the largest and most costly oil spills in U.S. history. Drill, baby, drill!

That blithe, happy battle cry rings pretty hollow in the wake of this disaster. We’re told how safe offshore drilling has become (and it is much safer than it used to be) — look at how the rigs weathered Katrina!

Now this.

This disaster should be a hard slap in the face of the drill, baby, drill crowd; a cold shower; a dozen cups of strong coffee. Maybe it’ll help them sober up. For even if they don’t care for its own sake about the environmental damage such spills create, you’d think they’d care about the economic damage. After all, that’s what drill, baby, drill is all about — keeping that economic engine revving.

A spill like this threatens the fishing industry, commercial and sport, along the entire gulf coast. As one fisherman noted, if they can’t fish, everybody’s business is screwed, including the grocery store up the road. Tourism suffers, the economic consequences go on and on.

Safer isn’t safe enough and being patted on our heads and told to just relax, everything will be okay just won’t cut it. Moving rigs closer to shore and opening drilling sensitive areas is risky. A spill and leak like the one in the gulf would be devastating if it was closer to shore.

This poses a big problem, for we are, indeed, dependent on oil and that’s not going to change any time soon. Civilization as we know it runs on oil — and not just in our cars. I’m typing on a petroleum-based keyboard right now. My world, your world, our world, can’t get along without the stuff, not for one day.

There is reason to doubt that we will be able to innovate beyond oil. Certainly alternative energy can pick up some of the load, but that’s primarily in power generation, replacing coal, not oil. (Not saying that’s a bad thing by any means, but it doesn’t cure the addiction).

There is a school of thought that argues that the explosively creative, productive civilization of the 20th/21st Century — the Age of Oil — is a one-time event in human history, that we can’t sustain it. The collapse of that civilization won’t be pretty.
So, what’s to be done?

We could drill, baby, drill, party like tomorrow will never come and damn the consequences. A major spill now and then is just the cost of doing business.
We could go all-out on alternative energy and fuel sources, and alternate modes of transportation but that would require major policy initiatives — including tax incentives on one end and heavy gasoline taxes on the other end — that are politically unacceptable.

And we have to accept that the returns on that investment may not be as great as we hope.

Essentially, the only way to wean ourselves off of our oil addiction is to radically alter our way of life. That’s downright blasphemous to a large segment of our social and political culture and really hard to do for the vast majority of us. Most of us don’t have the time, money or capability to mothball the car(s) or severely cut back on our vehicle use — especially over here in the wide high desert. How many of us can avoid buying products shipped halfway around the world in a just-in-time global economy?

I make no special pleading of superiority to anyone else here. I’m as hooked on oil as anyone else. My way of life is completely wrapped up in the civilization wrought by oil. I don’t see a way out.

We can be marginally more efficient, but that has little impact in a world where China and India with their vast populations are trying to catch up to our standard of living.
I think there’s a strong likelihood that the predictions of James Howard Kunstler in The Long Emergency will come to pass — a radical, dislocation brought on by the collapse of an oil-based civilization. We will change our way of living, but by force rather than by choice, and it won’t be easy, safe or pretty.

Gloom and doom, eh? So why not drill, baby, drill and postpone the crisis as long as possible? Because I want to preserve as much of what we have left of a beautiful and bountiful world we have left for as long as we can — and yes, I’m willing to pay for that.

I’m not opposed to all drilling all the time everywhere, but I am opposed to drilling anywhere, everywhere, all the time. Conservation may be only marginally effective, but it’s a better way to try to slow the slide into a dark post-oil future than allowing our world to be fouled to the chant of drill, baby, drill.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. One of the biggest problems in getting off the oil addiction is that the true cost of petrolium is never seen by the consumer. All of the external costs (our military/wars to keep supply flowing, environmental damage, etc) are borne by someone else. If all of that were priced in and gas cost $8 to $10 per gallon, how many people in Sisters would be driving around with V-8 engines in their giant pickups that they just have to have so they can haul their horses ($1,200/ton hay anyone?) once a year?

    It is a good start that BP has claimed they will be picking up all the costs of the clean up (or at least their insurer will). They will be a corporate hero in my eyes if they reimburse the citizens of the gulf coast for the ruination of their economy.

  2. In an ironic way "Drill baby, drill!" can now be linked to "Burn baby, Burn!" - Where is Al Gore when we need him "most"?