Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Oil spill's a bully pulpit for offshore drilling opponents

By Sid Salter • Perspective Editor

By about a 2-to-1 ratio, Americans consume more petroleum products than we produce. Over the last 60 years, oil consumption and net oil importation in the U.S. has increased while U.S. oil production has decreased.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that the U.S. imports 57 percent of the nation's "crude oil and refined petroleum products." More to the point, EIA confirms that half the imports come from the Western Hemisphere.

As the nation digests the ramifications of yet another terrorist attempt to harm Americans from an apparent Muslim extremist, it's also germane to note that EIA reports that some 20 percent of "U.S. imports of crude oil and petroleum products come from the majority Muslim countries of Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates."

The fight over offshore drilling isn't about the price of oil. Whether we buy the oil from that Venezuela's socialist dictator Hugo Chavez or from our "friends" in the United Arab Emirates or from the Canadians, the price is going to be about the same.

If we drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Virginia or on the northern coastline of Alaska, the price of oil per barrel is going to be about the same. Oil is a commodity like sugar or coffee or pork bellies and the markets - which don't care about borders or philosophies - set the prices.

"To drill or not to drill" is neither bad Shakespeare nor a cogent question about the future of energy consumption in the U.S. Despite the fact that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has provided environmentalists a bully pulpit to preach against any future offshore drilling, those sermons ignore some hard realities.

In the future - until a more viable source of energy is found and incorporated into the daily operations of our vehicles, our homes and our businesses - the question about energy won't be "how much does it cost?" but "can we get it?"

While markets control the price of petroleum, governments like Iran, Russia, China, India and others can strongly manipulate the supply of oil for political advantage.

America will likely never be totally independent of the need for and use of foreign oil. Neither will America be in the position of choosing the whim of not continuing to drill for the oil near and within our own borders. Doing so would contradict the basic laws of supply and demand.

What the U.S. - and to a lesser extent Mississippi - can do is to require oil companies and the drilling contractors they employ to utilize the best technology available to reduce the chances of repeating another Deepwater Horizon-type spill.

The oil companies should be, must be held accountable for the damage they've done. But those who extrapolate this spill into retreating from the offshore drilling plan President Obama unveiled less than a month ago are ignoring this nation's energy security - as they do when they seek to impede or ban the use of nuclear power.

But nothing short of a 180 degree turnaround from current U.S. energy consumption rates is going to change the need to hunt, find and drill for all the oil that the U.S. can find.

Here's the math. World oil production is about 85 million barrels per day (BPD). U.S. oil consumption is 21 million BPD, of which 14.7 million BPD is consumed by U.S. transportation costs. We'll keep drilling as long as those numbers stay the same or are increasing. Bank on it.

Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail Visit his blog at His talk radio show, On Deadline with Sid Salter, is broadcast on the SuperTalk Mississippi network.

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