Editorial: Bush would keep America addicted to oil

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

If 'America is addicted to oil,' as George W. Bush famously asserted in his 2006 State of the Union address, then why is the president encouraging America the Addict to dig around the couch cushions, scrounging up loose change to fund its fix?

That's essentially what Bush is doing as he presses Congress to let private interests siphon and squeeze the black stuff from public lands and waters. Late last month the president offered four ideas that he said would temporarily shield us from the 'hard reality' of $4-a-gallon gasoline:

-Expanding refining capacity;

-Reversing a long-standing executive order — signed by his own father — in order to allow oil exploration a few miles off the nation's coastlines;

-Exposing part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to exploration and drilling;

-Getting fuel from rocks.

Suppose it's an improvement from Bush's previous strategy — going hat in hand to Saudi Arabia in an unsuccessful attempt to get the sheiks to up the morphine drip. But these ideas do not represent what America needs, which is rehab in the form of a comprehensive energy policy.

Nor are they fresh: Proponents have been pushing for three decades to drill in the Alaskan refuge and off the coasts. Oil companies have been trying to extract oil, economically, from sedimentary shale for about as long. So much for the 'breakthrough' ideas Bush promised two years ago.

Only the refinery point passes immediate muster, as even the most desperate of addicts should question the wisdom of tapping other veins in environmentally sensitive, productively iffy areas. Conservation groups point out the potential drawbacks of drilling. Other industries could be impacted. Costly reclamation would be required. Is the trade-off worth it?

Then there's the math. Americans consume more than 7 billion barrels of oil each year. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that between 4.2 billion and 11.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil lie in ANWR's coastal plain, maybe not even a year's worth of oil consumption.

Meanwhile, the federal Energy Information Administration states that a potential 16 billion barrels of oil are currently covered by the offshore drilling moratorium — a little more than two years' worth. Oil shale is far more promising, with 800 billion barrels' worth said to lie in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. But again, if the intent is to lower gas prices, don't count on shale; the recovery process is costly and requires great amounts of electricity and water.

So why doesn't the president ask the oil companies why they're sitting on already approved exploration areas? Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin points to 68 million acres of federal land — compared to 1.5 million acres in ANWR — that are currently under commercial lease for oil, ignored. Forgive Americans who wonder if staying on this enormously profitable run has anything to do with it. 

And if you're waiting on any real boost of fuel economy standards from Washington, don't hold your breath.

Look, gas prices and the inflation they incite are a hardship for countless citizens, not to be dismissed. Absolutely, domestic oil beats foreign oil. But America needs relief now; only the refining part of this equation does that. This nation must get serious about alternatives (think tax credits for renewables). 

Meanwhile, seven years plus and we still haven't seen a comprehensive energy plan from the Bush administration. The former Texas oilman's new strategy seems a last gasp from a leader who's realized that if he doesn't offer up some semblance of an energy blueprint before he leaves office, he'll be remembered as the guy under whom gasoline prices nearly tripled.

Quite a legacy.

Peoria Journal Star