“Drill, Obama, Drill” Won’t Save You at the Gas Station

Republicans have a problem. The economy is improving…under President Obama’s watch.

And it is precisely because the economy is improving, both here and abroad, that gasoline prices are rising.

Because they can no longer blame him for slow growth or rising unemployment, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich are now blaming the President for high gas prices, which is a little like blaming him for a strong economy, a charge he’d gladly plead guilty to.

So here’s my question for the candidates: If Democratic policies are responsible for oil that now costs $102/barrel, does that mean that Republican policies were responsible for oil that cost $145/barrel back in 2008?

In fact, George W. Bush oversaw the largest rise in oil prices in American history, from $20/barrel in 2001. And you know what? It wasn’t his fault either.

Demand is growing, and supply can’t keep up. Global production has been flat since 2005. No president can change that.

But you can’t say Barack Obama hasn’t tried.

President Obama has overseen the largest rise in drilling rigs in American history, from less than 200 in April 2009 to over 1,200 today. American oil production is the highest it’s been in eight years. We now import 15 percent less oil than we did in 2005. For the first time since 1949, the United States is a net exporter of gasoline, diesel, and other fuels.

There was a time, not too long ago, when none of this was true. Back then, during the last presidential campaign, we were told that “drill, baby, drill” was the answer to our woes.

Well, we’ve tested their theory. We’ve ramped up drilling exponentially. We’re living through a mini-boom in oil production. And gas prices keep rising.

The skeptics have been vindicated.

But old slogans die hard.

No amount of drilling can bring back the good old days. According to economist James Hamilton, “The 138 million barrels produced in North Dakota and Montana in 2010 is about half of what the state of Oklahoma produced in 1927 and a fifth of what the state of Alaska produced in 1988.”

Increasing production in new oil fields only replaces declining production elsewhere. That’s why American oil production has fallen from 10 million barrels per day in 1970 to 6 million today.

Even with new shale oil in North Dakota and further exploration in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, the International Energy Agency predicts we’ll never produce more than 6.7 million barrels per day. Even if the President opened the Outer Continental Shelf to exploration, the best we could expect is another 0.5 million barrels per day.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket on the world stage, where prices are set. If we opened every possible region to oil exploration, the Energy Information Administration estimates that gas prices would fall two cents per gallon.

But not until 2030.

Because drilling takes a long time.

That’s why, when the Washington Post fact-checkers tried to figure out how the Keystone XL pipeline might affect gas prices, they reported: “We could not find any experts…to say that the prospect of the pipeline being built in the future would somehow impact the price of gasoline today.”

Two cents per gallon, eighteen years from now. Is that what our environment is worth? Is that what the safety of our workforce is worth?

After the worst environmental disaster in American history.

After a record-setting fourteen billion-dollar weather disasters last year.

After the highest Arctic temperatures and the lowest Arctic sea ice volume on record.

After fourteen dangerous leaks at the first Keystone pipeline.

Can we not say we’ve been warned?

But the Republican candidates don’t care. If they really cared about rising gas prices, they wouldn’t be beating the war drums against Iran. Time and time again, conflict in the Middle East has inflated the price of oil.

Just ask George W. Bush. Okay, so maybe it was his fault after all.

==========

This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.