With gas prices topping four dollars a gallon in some regions of the country, now may not be the best time to say something positive about "big oil," but here goes anyway.
Where is it written that the cost for a product or service should be frozen in place and in time, never to rise again, or to rise at a pace commensurate with our incomes? People who think this way know little to nothing about supply and demand and less than nothing about the profit motive. That's because at least three generations have been raised on the notion of entitlement, and when one feels entitled to something, one believes someone else should pay.
Senate Democrats last week sought to ingratiate themselves with voters, while doing nothing to produce more energy, with a familiar attack on "big oil." They want to repeal $17 billion in tax breaks for the oil companies over 10 years and on top of that impose a windfall profit tax on companies that don't invest in new energy sources. This is political expediency at its worst.
Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron, told me it's a myth that oil companies are not investing in new energy sources. He says last year alone, Chevron spent $20 billion exploring new sources of energy.
Robertson said President Bush's trip this week to Saudi Arabia is "highly embarrassing" because he is "calling on the Saudis to produce more oil when we are not doing it ourselves." The last refinery built in America was in 1976. Tighter government regulations are the main reason. That's how unserious we are about our energy "crisis."
Robertson said there would be plenty of oil available to the United States if the oil companies were allowed to get it: "Eighty-five percent of offshore oil is off-limits." Responding to objections to offshore drilling by environmentalists and their allies in Congress, Robertson noted that some of the strongest pro-environment nations in Europe - he mentions Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom - lease offshore locations for oil exploration. The technology has become so good, he said, that during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, "one thousand offshore wells were destroyed (in the Gulf of Mexico), but not one leaked." Australia, he said, has allowed offshore drilling for 40 years without any environmental damage.
In addition to the sinking value of the dollar, here is the main problem: According to the Department of Energy, U.S. oil production has fallen approximately 40 percent since 1985, while the consumption of oil has grown by more than 30 percent.
According to government estimates, there is enough oil in areas accessible to America - 112 billion barrels - to power more than 60 million cars for 60 years. The Outer Continental Shelf alone contains an estimated 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Had President Clinton not vetoed exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in 1995, when oil was $19 a barrel, America would currently be receiving more than 1 million barrels a day domestically, all of it taken by better technology than existed more than 30 years ago. That was when the Alaskan pipeline was built despite protests from environmentalists who claimed it would destroy the caribou. It didn't, but the environmentalists are back with the same discredited arguments. Because most of the oil remains "off-limits," we are becoming more dependent on foreign oil.
No, we can't "drill our way out" of our addiction to oil, but we can make the transition to other energy sources easier while lessening our dependence on foreign oil and propping up dictators who use our money to subsidize terrorists. A slow transition will also give us time to consider more fuel-efficient cars and greater use of public transportation, even bicycles for short trips. Bikes would help more of us lose weight and get in shape. A friend bikes to work every day, saving gas, car payments, insurance and repair costs.
The specter of a president of the United States going hat-in-hand to Saudi Arabia to plead for more (and more expensive) oil from the dictatorship that underwrites an extreme form of Islam that is out to kill us is obscene. President Bush ought to be rallying Americans, not embracing people who don't allow women to drive cars.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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