WASHINGTON -- The frozen water pipe this morning was a rude awakening. I managed to thaw the pipe without bursting it, thus saving the cost of a plumber. However, a few hours later, I opened our bill for home heating oil. At $2.70 per gallon, it was a blunt reminder that, with petroleum at $100 a barrel, the future cost of keeping fuel in our furnace -- and gasoline in our cars -- will make the plumber's price pale in comparison.
According to the "experts," those of us who drive to work will be paying $4 per gallon for motor fuel soon, and we all will be paying more for electricity, consumer products, air travel and to heat our homes. Happy New Year.
Depending on which "experts" you believe, these ever-higher prices for energy are because:
A. Violence in Nigeria, Africa's No. 1 oil-producing nation, threatens exploration and deliveries.
B. Mexican oil depots and on-load ports are threatened by bad weather.
C. The government in Tehran has threatened to cut off oil production if sanctions are imposed over Iran's nuclear weapons program.
D. Turkey's attacks on Kurdish militants threaten deliveries of Iraqi oil.
E. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries says demand for crude oil threatens to outstrip OPEC production by 2024.
Note that "threat" appears in each of the explanations for this week's price spike. Note, as well, that all these "threats" -- and the century mark for the price we pay for crude oil -- come just two weeks after President Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. In its Dec. 19 news release, the White House said the new law will "help reduce U.S. dependence on oil." The new law sets higher fuel economy standards for automobiles, mandates the production of 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022 and requires higher energy efficiency in everything from household appliances to light bulbs.
This week, when crude oil topped the $100-per-barrel mark, White House press secretary Dana Perino was asked whether President Bush planned to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to drive down the price of home heating fuel -- as Bill Clinton did in September 2000, when he released 30 million barrels in an effort to prop up Al Gore's faltering presidential bid. She responded, "This president would not use the SPR to manipulate (prices), unless there was a true emergency."
Unfortunately, that's the wrong question and the wrong answer. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was created in the aftermath of the 1973 Mideast war and the ensuing Arab oil embargo. Worldwide, oil prices had risen from $3 per barrel to more than $11 per barrel, triggering a global recession. The following year, the SPR was created, not as a way to manipulate prices but as a means of ensuring the U.S. had sufficient oil available to avoid economic collapse.
The solution to this problem isn't just "energy independence" for Americans; it's "independence from oil" for the whole of the planet. This week's new high in the cost of petroleum should have triggered a "crude awakening" among our political leaders, instead of just more finger-pointing rhetoric. Those who wish to lead this nation in the future need to put more than hot air into solutions such as clean, safe nuclear energy for electricity and hydrogen fuel-cell technology for propelling people and products around the planet.
Regrettably, none of those running for president this year has been willing to seriously address the problem of how we get there from here. Perhaps now that the candidates have moved beyond Iowa -- and the Corn Belt -- one of them will announce a real energy plan.