When you and I look at today's gas prices, we see empty checking accounts and impending financial ruin. When Big Oil looks at them, it sees a golden opportunity.
Oil companies have been trying for decades, without success, to get Congress to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska for exploration and possible development and lift the federal ban on further offshore drilling. Now, with prices at the pump well above $4 a gallon and headed north, the industry believes it has the political lever it needs to pry all that oil and gas loose.
A group with the catchy name of American Solutions for Winning the Future, fronted by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, is pushing a catchy slogan: "Drill Here. Drill Now. Pay Less." Its website is collecting signatures on a petition calling on Congress "to act immediately to lower gasoline prices ... by authorizing the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries." It's collected more than 1.3 million signatures already.
In the first place, the "pay less" part of it is just a lie. It would take a minimum of three years for any new wells offshore or in ANWR to bring any oil to market and as much as 10 years to reach peak production. And even then, the impact at the gas pump would be negligible. Economists have estimated it might drop the price of a gallon of gas from around $4 to around $3.92 a gallon. In case math isn't your strong suit, that's eight cents per gallon - or $1.60 for a 20-gallon tank.
In the second place, the oil companies already have the ability to "drill here, drill now" - but they're not doing it. They're holding oil and gas leases on 68 million acres of federal land that sits un-drilled. Bottom line: The "drill here, drill now" campaign isn't about bringing more oil to market now and giving consumers relief; it's about oil companies getting their hands on the last remaining offshore and ANWR leases for potentially lucrative future development.
George W. Bush announced Monday that he was lifting the longstanding presidential ban on new offshore oil and gas drilling. Except as political theater the action was meaningless, because a congressional ban is still in place. Congressional leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to their credit, are standing firm so far. Also to their credit, none of Oregon's seven members of Congress have signed Gingrich's petition.
Long term, the solution to America's energy problem lies with conservation and alternative energy sources. For short-term relief, the government should look at releasing some oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and taking action to rein in speculators - and give the delusional "drill now" idea THE BOOT.