In a press conference today George Bush addressed, among other things, concerns about rising energy prices.
President Bush repeatedly laid blame for the rise in gas prices at the feet of Congress and its refusal to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Bush said that while renewable and alternative energy development should continue – citing a future with cars powered by ethanol, hydrogen or “cars that have batteries that can go 40 miles” – in the meantime Congress should allow “environmentally friendly” drilling in ANWR to alleviate the current steep rise in gas prices at the pump and crude oil by the barrel.
While he does not explicitly say it, it is clear that his solution to the current situation – and we can stretch “current” to mean several years hence – is oil from ANWR.
A few points come to mind:
- Just another hit will do the trick – In his 2006 State of the Union speech president Bush said America was “addicted to oil”. Yet he steadfastly holds to the notion that drilling in ANWR, something repeatedly rejected by Congress, will cure that addiction – even if only for the “short term”. Okay so Bush was just using an analogy back then and we shouldn’t hold him to it now. Nonetheless, the only way to break a destructive habit is to change behavior. The Bush Administration has not supported or backed an aggressive campaign to develop and bring to market emerging energy technologies. And I’m not talking about corn-based ethanol.
- I’ve said it before and I am compelled to say it again – Bush has compromised his own credibility on this issue – his words do not match his actions or true intent.
- When he repeatedly states that drilling in ANWR is “environmentally safe” I have to ask “says who?”.
When I was part of the Earthwatch team last February monitoring environmental changes along the Arctic Circle, I had the opportunity to chat at length with Canadian scientists specializing in arctic ecosystems. As you might guess, it’s a different story from these guys, who said that most of this touted new technology is largely untested, especially in the Arctic. Furthermore, even the most gee-whiz technology can’t guarantee there won’t be some accident or environmental degradation. In fact, such is virtually guaranteed to happen eventually – at least it seems minimally prudent to assume so – and any oil spilling in the high arctic, under ice, in permafrost, is exponentially more damaging than elsewhere. As one scientists said, “it’s over, there’s no way they’ll be able to clean it up”. This in a region already under accelerated stress from climate change and drilling (and burning) that oil would only exacerbate that stress.
As the addict says: I’ll quit when I’m ready…
- But forget all that for a moment. Let’s look at Bush’s argument on its face. He stated in his comments today that exploiting ANWR would provide 1 million barrels a day. But for how long? Mr. Bush does not extrapolate that number into how much economically recoverable oil is thought to be in ANWR – it’s probably too complicated for us to understand.
As of July 2007, according to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. consumes 20.6 million barrels of oil per day. The EIA also estimates that, even if ANWR drilling had been approved back in 2002, only 40,000 barrels would be available for refining by 2012 – that’s less than 1% of daily consumption (after all, you can’t just ride up to the Arctic and start digging. The most optimistic lead time for actual oil production is ten years). Peak producing capacity, around the year 2020, is estimated to be about 780,000 barrels of oil per day (apparently Mr. Bush rounded up).
Think of the advances in alternative and renewable energy – the recovery from addiction – this country could achieve in that time given earnest and aggressive leadership from the president.
Daniel Weiss, an energy expert for the think tank Center for American Progress, was quoted in Reuters:
Even if oil was flowing, it would be too small amount to reduce the price of crude or gasoline… President Bush’s claim ignores the primary causes behind record high oil prices: a cheap dollar, high demand from China and India, and speculators driving thSe price up. Drilling and sullying the Arctic would not address any of these causes of high oil prices.
Mr. Bush would like to find blame in his political opponents and a simple solution to a complex problem (didn’t I talk about that yesterday?), and he does the advancement of a workable energy economy a disservice.
It is high time for the president, any president – the next president – to get serious about a sustainable energy policy.