Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Drilling in ANWR and off the Coast of Florida is Misguided

Of all the absurd arguments I’ve heard this year, Tom Ciccarelli’s “environmentalism is the mother of socialism” takes the cake. Understanding neither environmentalism nor socialism, his evident aim is to fear monger through the use of language loaded in the direction he apparently knows his “evidence” won’t go (if he had the goods, he wouldn’t need the ballast). Using loaded phrasing like “the lefty plan” Ciccarelli substitutes ridicule for reasoning, accusation (“environmentalists are responsible for the ridiculous energy costs”) for evidence.

Ciccarelli’s only reference, Mineral Management Service ( is not a source of objective evidence about the benefits or hazards of offshore drilling. MMS’s mission is to promote “energy independence” via drilling and natural gas production. The agency also disburses royalties from this production—evidence of its interested aims. That “copious amounts of oil and natural gas” will materialize is, moreover, fantasy at best. Much like the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), it amounts to fewer than 30 years of energy production at present rates of consumption. According to the U.S. Department of Energy “[i]f Congress were to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, crude oil prices would probably drop by an average of only 75 cents a barrel...The report, which was requested in December by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, found that oil production in the refuge "is not projected to have a large impact on world oil prices” ( Ditto for oil-to-shale in Colorado and Wyoming.

Ciccarelli’s plan rewards the already bloated oil and natural gas industries with additional “huge tax breaks” at the direct expense of future Americans (not to mention the rest of the world). He doesn’t tell you that the dollars corporations like BP (Beyond Petroleum) spend on alternative energy research pales utterly in comparison to their PR campaign to defend their current practice, or that the environmental record of Big Oil is beyond deplorable. Instead he resorts to straw fallacy—distortion of an opponent’s position to make a weaker one look better—with admonitions like “hush up, Greenpeace, there isn’t a tree for 750 miles” ignoring the fact that ecosystems depend on the complex interactions of all their constituent members, especially their predator/prey relationships, and that ANWR’s caribou—and thus everything that depends on their migration—is at risk in drilling. Maybe we think that Alaska’s far away, so what happens there won’t affect the rest of us, but as the scientific evidence for global climate change shows, this thinking is naive in the extreme.

Contrary to Ciccarelli’s cynical effort to dismiss environmentalists as leftists, the future of energy production isn’t about party politics; it’s about how much we care about the future of our children. Without the development of environmentally sustainable alternatives, this future’s in jeopardy. The writing’s been on the wall since at least 1973—the first oil crisis—and our lack of innovation and action is not just Big Oil’s fault (although resistance to alternatives is well-documented for Exxon, Chevron, BP); it’s ours. We are the world’s energy gluttons, and more of the same a la Ciccarelli will only hasten the demise of our energy independence. He’s right that we do have smart people. Let’s put them to work asking smart questions like “Hey PPL, where DO you store those spent nuclear rods?” “What more could we do with solar, wind, a diversity of bio-fuels, hydrogen?” The environmentalists, of course, have been asking the hard questions for years. Their proposals for limiting meat production, producing gas efficient vehicles, reducing the production of plastics, controlling pollutants, etc., offer tough medicine—the kind that just might save us from soiling ourselves to extinction.

Wendy Lynne Lee
594 words