Commentary

The tired old baloney about energy independence

March 4, 2022 4:12 am

A view of the world’s largest off-shore oil platform near Ingleside, Texas in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo by the National Archives | Public domain).

Once again, due to a conflict in some part of the world, our political leaders have the same old knee-jerk reaction — we must increase oil and gas drilling in the U.S. This time it’s the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the excuse, but it’s just the latest in a long line of facetious reasons to urge more production —and consumption — of the fossil fuels that are slowly but surely ruining the planet.

Nearly a half century ago Arab nations, angered by our assistance to Israel, decided to punish us by cutting off shipments of oil to the U.S. The Arab oil embargo plunged our nation into an “energy crisis” marked by vastly higher prices for petroleum products and supply shortages that led to price gouging so severe Congress was forced to step in.

The call for “American energy independence” quickly rang out, leading to the development of Prudhoe Bay’s vast oil reserves and the Alaskan pipeline to carry the oil south to waiting tankers in Valdez.

Virtually all concerns of environmental damage were waived and the pipeline was built through boreal forests, across pristine rivers, and on top of permafrost. Ironically, the permafrost is now melting thanks to the global warming caused by the oil it carried.

But we did not become energy independent.

Decades later hydraulic fracking became economical and “drill, baby, drill” was the cry that went up from our politicians, citing “energy independence” as the reason to open ever more public lands to exploration and development.

And again, the known environmental hazards that often accompanied fracking operations — from pollution of groundwater to disposal of radioactive production wastes — were largely given a pass as simply a consequence of our drive for “energy independence.”

But we did not become energy independent.

Instead, Congress decided to repeal its former ban on exporting petroleum. Recently President Joe Biden offered up a whopping 1.7 million acres for oil and gas exploration and production in the Gulf of Mexico where massive spills have fouled beaches, killed countless seabirds, and poisoned the seafood for which the area was once famous. This largest-ever lease in the Gulf is being challenged in court, but if history holds any lessons it’s that we will pursue maximum production of petroleum at any cost.

But we did not become energy independent.

So here we are again and thanks to a conflict on the other side of the globe, Americans suddenly see the price of oil skyrocket by 30 percent (so far) and are told we can expect $4 or even $5 a gallon gas. And once again, it will be the citizens who suffer disproportionately due to the leadership failures of our politicians and the unquenchable greed of the international oil cartel.

Wondering why we don’t address the demand end of the equation? Maybe ask Louis DeJoy, the Postmaster General installed by Trump, who is moving forward with an $11 billion purchase of gas vehicles to replace the postal service’s 230,000-vehicle fleet — and the EPA says they get a whopping 0.4 mpg better mileage than the old vehicles.

We have been fed the phony line of “energy independence” for long enough. We have sacrificed more than enough public lands, waters, and air to oil and gas exploration and development. If our government was serious, we wouldn’t be exporting oil and gas, we’d be taking care of our citizens first. Until we do that, the phony cry for “energy independence” should be seen for just what it is — our politicians continuing to shill for the international energy cartel.

George Ochenski writes from Helena. 

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