Commentary

Energy Illogic

This article was first published in the Washington Times, Dec. 6, 2001.
It’s nice to see my greener friends peacocking their colorful logic. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sept. 11 attack and the subsequent war were caused by our dependence on foreign oil. Therefore we shouldn’t exploit domestic sources by drilling in a tiny corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Such “thinking” screams “hidden agenda.”

Simply, it is this: The NRDC and the other green groups know that drilling in Alaska will be successful and lead to little — if any — detectable long-term damage to Arctic wildlife. In fact, drilling in nearby Prudhoe Bay enhanced the Caribou population.

That success is going to lead to more drilling on Alaska’s North Slope. The geology of that vast region, which stretches from the Yukon’s Mackenzie Delta to Point Barrow, well over 500 miles, is pretty similar. Oil at Prudhoe and oil in a corner of the Refuge probably means there may be oil pretty much everywhere along that transect. Clean extraction at ANWR will mean clean extraction everywhere.

That raises the prospect for even more oil on the shallow continental shelf to the North in the Beaufort Sea. If you can pump oil hundreds of miles out in the violent North Sea winter, which we do now, you can get it out of the relatively benign and shallow Beaufort in the summer. And, owing to the increasingly open water occurring in the summer, we might be able to tanker it away, rather than build another trans-Alaska pipeline. If this is a result of human-induced global warming, more abundant petroleum is now its own reward. When you start adding up all these potential fields, the amount of oil emerging from Alaska becomes a substantial component of our supply. Coupled with domestic coal and nuclear we could, in fact, use dramatically less foreign oil. All of this can be decided by markets, not laws.

In order to prevent this, greens are lining up in support of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s energy bill. It prohibits drilling in ANWR, which further restricts supply and increases dependence on foreign sources. How can you be against dependence on foreign oil and against extraction of domestic oil? The bill is going to be a top Senate priority next February.

To achieve more independence in energy, you have to produce more domestic energy. That is precisely what Daschle’s bill doesn’t do. Instead, it hearkens back to decrepit, discredited solar energy, which will never provide us much unless the sun blows up. In that case we’d have much bigger fish frying. Daschle’s bill also promotes windmills, which are plumb ugly, and stop working precisely when energy demand is the greatest (during the hottest or coldest temperatures, which usually occur under calm conditions). The bill also subsidizes cars that few people want. Honda has sold only 8,000 of its cute 69mpg hybrids in two years, despite their rock-solid mechanical performance and truly elegant design.

The NRDC’s statement, issued by spokesman Alan Metrick, deserves further investigation. Everywhere you look for logical implications, the weirder it gets. Specifically, he said that eventually our dependency “bill comes due, and as far as we’re [NRDC] concerned, it came due on September 11.” Metrick ‘s office, incidentally, is a stone’s throw away from the former World Trade Center.

Osama bin Laden is mad at the Saudis for allowing American troops on their soil, not for us using their oil. What he wants, instead, is for them to throw us out so he and his few friends could jack up the price of petroleum. If anything, that would reduce our dependence on their oil, assuming we had some substitutes.

Bin Laden’s other demand is the destruction of Israel and consequent murder of Jews. Does the NRDC think that the only reason we support Israel is because of Saudi oil? Perhaps, just maybe, the American public feels that Israel has a right to exist, which requires defense from hostile neighbors and terrorists like bin Laden.

As for promoting energy independence, Daschle’s bill is a fake. And so is the NRDC’s logic. We didn’t cause Sept. 11 by driving cars. Pure out-and-out hatred did, and hatred, too, knows no logic.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and author of “The Satanic Gases.”