Where do they think oil comes from?

Posted: Mar 28, 2003 12:00 AM

Where do the 52 U.S. senators who voted last week against drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge think oil comes from?

Gas stations? Arab countries or tacky American backwaters like Bakersfield and Texas (they have more pickups than hot tubs, don't they)?

Places where there are no flowers?

Flowers were a big theme last week. Sen. Barbara Boxer stood in front of a photograph of refuge wildflowers to champion her measure to kill a budget item authorizing drilling in ANWR. I guess there should be no drilling near flowers.

"We don't think it makes sense. There are already so many other places in Alaska that are open to drilling. They don't need to drill in a wildlife refuge," Boxer explained.

OK, except ANWR is where the oil is.

Except that legislation would allow development only on some 2,000 acres of the 19 million acre reserve. (Not to mention that work would occur in the winter, when it's too cold for flowers anyway.)

Besides, as Interior Secretary Gale Norton said to the House Committee on Resources last month, rules for developing ANWR would be strict and should minimize the impact on wildlife.

Drilling outside of the United States isn't necessarily scrutinized as carefully. "One might ask what environmental protections are used in other countries on which we rely for 57 percent of our oil," Norton asked rhetorically.

Where should companies drill for oil? I asked Eric Antebi of the Sierra Club.

He answered, "Right now we already have ongoing drilling projects in Alaska, in our Gulf of Mexico, and we're not saying we should be dismantling those."

Well, that's big. It tells you that wherever oil is discovered, the enviros will stand against extracting it.

It tells you that they'll always find a reason to oppose extracting new oil.

Antebi explained that better fuel regulations could save as much oil as can be pumped from ANWR. Boxer suggested that by changing the fuel-economy standards of SUVs to 35 miles per gallon by 2013, America could reduce its dependence on foreign oil by 43 percent.

I agree. Car manufacturers could and should improve fuel-efficiency for all cars. As I've written before, Washington should raise fuel-efficiency standards, at least so that SUVs have to match the average standard for sedans -- 27.5 mpg.

But 35 miles per gallon? That's a Ford Focus.

Why not write a law saying everyone has to be nice to each other? Or that there

should be no oil drilling near flowers? Or that SUVs should get 35 mpg and cost the same as they do now? If laws were magic wands, each law would make the world a better place.

Meanwhile, in the real world, America is at war. America's dependence on foreign oil skews U.S. relations with dubious allies. It tilts the global balance of power.

While Boxer dismisses ANWR because it likely may take 10 years for its oil to hit the pumps, in 10 years America may need that oil.

Fortunately, there are still some realists in Washington. They are talking quietly about a compromise that would include a rise in fuel-efficiency standards and drilling in ANWR. Each side gives up something. Liberals would sacrifice a part of a wildlife reserve for greater fuel efficiency. Conservatives would surrender their view that SUVs are inviolate in order to expand the nation's domestic energy supply.

It's not fantasy. It's an adult, realistic compromise.