The Death of 'Drill, Baby, Drill'

Will the Gulf oil spill lead more consumers to adopt fuel-efficient and petroleum-free alternatives?

Putting Out Fires on Gulf Oil Rig

It’s been a little more than a month since President Obama announced that he had reversed his position on offshore drilling, deciding to back an expansion that would open up most of the Eastern seaboard to oil exploration. The move was widely considered to be less of a reflection of the administrations energy philosophy than a compromise with the “drill, baby, drill” crowd.

Over the past two years, Gov. Sarah Palin’s campaign mantra has come to represent an ecological and economic ideology that refuses to cede the primacy of man over the natural realm—if the energy resources are there, says this credo, we can and must use them.

But now, in the face of a growing oil slick that is threatening ecosystems and local economies throughout the Gulf Coast region—and a barrage of other hard truths that call into question whether there is even enough recoverable crude oil left on the planet to satisfy the world’s growing thirst for gasoline into the next decade—the United States may be at a crossroads in the energy debate.

Public and legislative support for greater automobile efficiency, and a transition away from petroleum as our sole source of transportation fuel, is set to gain new momentum.

Beginning of the End

Oiled bird

Images of oil-soaked birds are becoming the symbol of the urgent need to break our addiction from oil.

Since the explosion that took the lives of 11 oil workers and spread millions of gallons of oil into the ocean nearly two weeks ago, the Obama administration has stepped back from its call for more drilling, saying that the issue required further study and consideration.

Florida senator Bill Nelson, a longtime opponent of offshore drilling, has taken things a step further, calling for a temporary nationwide moratorium on the practice and calling any attempts to expand drilling beyond the areas currently allowed by law “dead on arrival” in Congress. Meanwhile, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has reversed his pro-drilling position. “I see on TV the birds drenched in oil, the fishermen out of work, the massive oil spill, oil slick destroying our precious ecosystem,” said the governor. “It will not happen here in California.”

House Republicans are scrambling to get out their message that any encumbrance to drilling would impact oil prices and increase dependence on foreign oil, assembling an “Energy Rapid Response Team.” But the economic realities seem to fly in the face of that argument. Even if the proposed drilling expansion were to be enacted, it would increase international oil production (which is the standard by which crude prices are set) by a mere fraction of a percent—and that oil probably wouldn’t even begin flowing for nearly a decade.

The increasingly bizarre and desperate rhetoric from the likes of Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Fox News personality Neil Cavuto and former FEMA director Michael Brown could signify the dying gasps of “drill, baby, drill.” In the face images of dead endangered sea turtles and fishing and tourism industries in turmoil, the oil industry is finding it more and more difficult to scare up support from moderates, and calls to move away from petroleum as quickly as possible are growing louder.

Meanwhile, nearly every global automaker is selling, or will soon sell, vehicles that use dramatically less petroleum, or none at all. The fuel efficiency sticker on the window of a new car suddenly has new importance.

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  • Rich S

    The Stone Age didn’t end when we ran out of stones.

  • Charles

    If you drill, you will spill!

    That is a simple fact. People and our machines are not perfect. If you do something long enough that is the least bit complicated, you will fail at some time. With off shore oil drilling, it maybe decades between mistakes, but when one happens, it can be devastating.

  • AP

    What’s that source that can provide all our energy needs and is completely safe? Oh, yeah, there isn’t one.

    Perhaps if the government had followed through on their containment device plans from the early 1990’s (and now they’re in charge of health care?).

  • veek

    Doe anyone remember the Exxon Valdez?

    It was a tanker.

    If the mantra “drill baby drill” is dead, the new mantra is “import baby import.” We would then see many more oil tankers, in the Gulf of Mexico no less, and considerably more chances for an Exxon Valdez-style spill. We’d also have more pressure to justify wars-for-overseas-oil-security, which is even more dangerous.
    Sure, I’d like to see it be “conserve baby conserve,” but … in the next decade or so, do you realistically think we’ll conserve enough to end offshore drilling or importing unless prices get much higher?
    My guess is that because of the damage caused by this rig, oil companies and tech companies will be working even harder to prevent similar incidents in the future, and may they succeed. This spill, bad as it is, is probably dwarfed by the environmental damage created by a few days of driving in the US.

  • usbseawolf2000

    Drill maybe spill

  • ex-EV1 driver

    You’re right about there being no safe energy. That’s why I place a lot of hope into the energy source that’s going to radiate us all day long anyway.
    EVs can and do operate off of solar energy.
    I agree that the last thing we should do is count on any government to solve any problems.

  • Halo9x

    Don’t count on it! My Prius does not run on electricity, nuclear power, wind power or solar power. It runs on gasoline. So do millions of other cars. So, unless someone has a cheap, long distance capable electric car, the gasoline burning cars are here to stay. The Leaf costs about $35K and has a range of 100 miles. The Volt looks like it will cost about $35-40K with an all electric range of 40 miles. Both are great IF you want to go short distances. How many people can afford to have a car that expensive for short distance driving, while having to have a gasoline powered car or gas/electric hybrid for long distance driving needs??? Not anyone I know! So, it will have to be hybrids for the time being. So, yes, Drill baby Drill!!!

  • Charles

    A few points:

    1) We should be looking at bridge energy sources.

    2) If you drill it, we will burn it and the CO2 from it will be warming the earth for generations.

    3) At some point we will all be driving EVs. The time maybe a 100 years, but I suspect more like 30-40.

    My best guess is that future cars will look like the coming plug in hybrids (PHV), except that the generator will be powered by something besides fossil fuels. If everybody had a Volt type car, and we had a good charging infrastructure, personal fuel consumption would be cut drastically. If PHVs had a 60 mile range (not an outlandish range for 20 years out) 75-95% of all daily driving would be covered. If you assume 60% city driving and that 83% of that driving is 60 miles a day or less, 50% of the total miles driven would be EV. So now we need to find a fuel for highway driving and something to produce electricity. If we get hydrogen reformers, a lot of different fuels could be used to run a fuel cell.

    Sorry for the ramble. Bottom line, conserve as much as possible, invest in hydrogen reformer technology and leave as much fossil fuel in the ground as we can.

  • vin2jeng3

    A gallon saved, is a gallon drilled – especially off-shore.

    Save baby, save. There is better ways to hybrid saving, though –

    It is in the engine. the D-cycle.

  • bcurry_2000

    ex-EV1 Driver I could not agree more…Amen!!!

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Let me set the record straight to counter some of your misinformation:
    – Most driving is not long distance, therefore, why are we wasting our planet 95% of the time to handle that miniscule 5%? Many people, especially in the major metropolitan areas have never driven more than 500 miles away from their homes. Even a short-range, slow charging EV would do for 100% of their needs. Wouldn’t it be nice if that majority of people quit using so much of the gasoline that those who go long distances actually need?
    – EVs can be charged quite fast. While not as fast as one can refuel a gasoline car, they have been charged in 10 to 45 minutes for 100 to 300 miles of range. We just need to get this technology deployed. Many pure-EVs (Leaf, Model S) planned for the next few years will have varying degrees of this capability. The potentially reduced convenience of this 5X increase in charging time will be partially offset by the fact that fast chargers need not have a dedicated facility so you can do something else (eat, restrooms, coffee, etc) while the car is charging.
    – The Volt can go as far and fill as fast as any gasoline-only hybrid. You just aren’t completely a slave to gasoline. I realize that being dominated (for example by oil companies) is a turn-on for some people, I’m just not one of them, nor are a lot of people I know. With an EREV such as the Volt, you can plug-in to electricity – from any of the plethora of possible generation sources – and drive 40 miles per charge on it. Since the average drive is much less than 40 miles, it is conceivable that most people, most of the time, will only use electricity. The only gasoline they will use is that which is used when the ICE is forced to run by the engine computer to keep it from atrophying or for long trips.
    – you missed the fact that the Leaf costs $32,780, not $35K and, with the $7500 federal tax rebate, that comes down to 25,280 or about the cost of your beloved Prius. State benefits may make this even more cost effective in the short term. There will be a lot less maintenance and much cheaper and convenient fuel for the Leaf so the extra upfront cost will be diminished even further. As sales increase, EV prices will undoubtedly drop so that rebate won’t be an issue.
    Go ahead and keep your gas guzzling, single fuel, Prius forever. You can think of it as soft, fuzzy, padded, shackle bonding you to your friends, the oil companies. You can smugly tell me how great it is to not be tied up with the hard steel shackles that lower mpg gasoline car drivers use. You can even refer to your shackle as a halo9x around your neck if it makes you feel even better.
    I’ll just pay a bit more up front and do most of my driving off of sunshine that I control if you please.
    Hopefully, we’ll actually have the option to choose if we can actually get EVs into mass production.

  • jacob

    Re: “Keep your PRIUS etc…”

    FYI: The point of driving a PRIUS was that other people wpuld buy it too… a 40-50 mpg car is a VAST improvement over one that gets 18-24 MPG. Secondly, it is precisely because of PRIUS and hybrids like it, and the fact that consumers have embraced them, that the nation is having this discussion about electric cars now.
    No longer can it be said that there are no real fuel efficient cars that can move americans around… there are, the alternatives will be increasing in the near future.

    Therefore, any discussion of “well you still pollute the air, and use gas: misses the point entirely. PRIUS drivers certainly do pollute, but they pollute alot less.

    It’s about time for this nation to have a real energy discussion that recognizes no fuel or technology is perfect, and that using oil for 80+ percent of our driving is just plain environmental and security suicide.

    I and millions like me voted with my wallet to purchase PRIUS 6 years ago, and auto industry is now listening, which is why I plan to purchase a car like the LEAF ASAP and to put solar panels on my roof.

    I simply cannot understand how anyone who is intelligent can look in the faces of their children (our future), and not understand this.

  • Fred Linn

    from AP——-” What’s that source that can provide all our energy needs and is completely safe? Oh, yeah, there isn’t one.”——

    No, there are several.

    Ethanol. Biodiesel. Methane.

    All we need are vehicles that allow us to use them.

    We need to mandate that all new vehicles sold in the US be biofuel and methane capable.

    Let consumers choose what fuel they want to run their vehicles with. Most will choose methane—it costs about 1/2 as much to drive the same distance with methane as it does with gasoline.

    We have MANY choices about biofuels. We have choices of ways to make them, what we can make them from, and how we use them.

    But we do not have any choices at all if we remain chained to petroleum because we remain locked to petroleum by our vehicles.

  • Joe

    The Al Gore Nuts are Happy!

  • Dave – Phoenix

    After my brother died in Iraq, I made a personal commitment to reduce my own oil consumption. I bought a hybrid and installed solar panels on my house, and was able to reduce my own energy usage by over 50%, with LITTLE OR NO change in lifestyle. If I can do it, so can everyone else.

    This effort proved to me that there are solutions available “today” to reduce oil consumption that don’t cost an arm and a leg, or require a significant change in lifestyle.

    All I hear from everyone is “excuses” why they “have” to drive vehicles that use more oil. The difference is “want” verses “need”. In addition you must add to the equation “impact”

    It’s great to want a vehicle that goes fast, or has a convertible top, or can carry 8 passengers, or can tow 10,000 lbs. But….

    What if you would have to sacrifice one family member in a foreign war in order to drive a convertible? How bad do you want that convertible now?

    When you put it into those terms is very easy to distinguish a want from a need.

    Unfortunately most Americans will never factor in the impact of their decision when purchasing a vehicle. The only impact they measure is the impact is on their wallet…..So the only real way to get them to think about it is to implement policies, taxes etc. that hit Americans in their wallet every time.

  • Pickey McPickey

    Dig baby Dig..Coal is the answer.

  • Pickey McPickey

    On a serious note, in terms of bio-fuels, why hasn’t Kudzu been discussed as a fuel source? Talk about your renewable resources…that sh.t grows about 1-3 feet a day. It seems to me that it would be the most abundant and cheapest resource for Cellulosic ethanol. It sure would make a lot of landowners in Georgia happy to see that predatory plant harvested.

  • Bob_C

    Sorry about your brother….

    What boggles my mind is that with all the backlash towards oil companies over the last few years and finally getting new oil drilling despite it, you would think oil companies would go to extraordinary measures of safety redundancies so that nothing like this happens & blows the political situation up even worse. It is like throwing gasoline on a fire!

  • Bob_C

    Sorry about your brother….

    What boggles my mind is that with all the backlash towards oil companies over the last few years and finally getting new oil drilling despite it, you would think oil companies would go to extraordinary measures of safety redundancies so that nothing like this happens & blows the political situation up even worse. It is like throwing gasoline on a fire!

  • norrishall

    This disaster reminds many of us who sit on the fence that there is no such thing as a safe oil rig, safe nuclear energy plant, safe coal mine.
    All it takes is an equipment malfunction or a careless worker to precipitate an environmental catastrophe.
    The Republicans got it wrong when they wrapped their energy policy in the “Drill, baby, drill” mantra of Sarah Palin.
    It made for great TV theater.
    But in the end it showed how shortsighted some people were in trusting a technology which is not well thought out and for which there is no emergency plans in place.

    Perhaps the silver lining is that this catastrophe has caused people to rethink the concept of “Drill, Baby, Drill” and to question the assurances of oil executives and Republicans that “modern oil drilling is safe”

    It’s back to basics:
    energy conservation,
    increasing fuel efficiency of cars,
    making gasoline expensive so people don’t just hop in their car and drive down to the market for a carton of eggs.

    The goal should be to USE LESS not DRILL FOR MORE

    They’ve been doing this in Japan and Europe for years

  • jw

    Dave in Phoenix, I’m sorry about the loss of your brother. I agree with the earlier posting by Jacob:

    “I simply cannot understand how anyone who is intelligent can look in the faces of their children (our future), and not understand this [reducing our reliance on fossil fuels].”

  • Anonymous

    that bird is depressing.