You may have heard that in the face of high gas prices, there’s been a fairly dramatic sea change in public opinion when it comes to offshore oil drilling. And it’s true that poll after poll shows increasing willingness on the part of Americans to lift the moratorium on domestic oil exploration. (57 percent favored drilling in August compared to 35 percent in February). But public opinion is often far more complicated than “yes” or “no.”
John Wihbey at the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media provides a reality check about how poll questions about drilling have been framed. For example, he points out (quoting Wall Street Journal energy reporter and blogger Keith Johnson), that when poll questions offer a choice between drilling and more investment in alternative energy, alternative energy usually comes out ahead. But lots of polls don’t give respondents the range of options.
Find this article interesting? Support more research like this with a gift!
A widely cited – and politically leveraged – poll from Gallup simply asked if respondents would favor or oppose drilling to “attempt to reduce the price of gasoline” – no alternatives were offered. And 57 percent said they were in favor. In June, Zogby reported 74 percent in favor.
But many have argued that poll questions that link drilling to lower prices are built on false premises in the first place.
Wihbey points out that some polls do show nuance when they ask questions beyond yes or no. For example, a new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that 51 percent of CA residents support more drilling; but it also showed that 83 percent want more federal funding for wind, solar, and hydrogen technology. The same poll reveals a consistent level of concern about environmental impacts, including climate change and air quality.
A Gallup poll released this week put support for drilling on a list below other energy solutions as reasons to get behind a particular candidate.
- 69 percent of Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports establishing tax incentives to encourage energy conservation.
- 68 percent more likely to support a candidate who would raise fuel mileage standards.
- 64 percent for candidates in favor of government investment in biofuels research.
- 62 percent for candidates who’d establish price controls on gasoline.
- 58 percent for candidates who would impose windfall profits tax on oil companies.
- 57 percent for candidates who support easing restrictions on off-shore drilling.
Wihbey et al aren’t saying that the increase in support for drilling is non-existent. Just that drilling doesn’t stand alone as a solution in Americans’ minds.
First McCain shovels some populist poop by promoting a Holiday Tax Credit, then he scoffs at Obama’s reference to proper tire pressure, and now he is the Drill Shill. As if it isn’t simple minded enough to believe drilling will solve our energy problems, conservatives believe Pelosi is the sole obstacle to our energy solutions (though both she and Obama are willing to make compromises on drilling). And Obama does support nuclear power, just not in asking Nevada to store the entire nation’s nuclear waste.Let’s please review this all a little more before we get ourselves in a tizzy and make an election mistake (or re-elect the wrong candidate like we did after 9-11). First, a good energy plan is an important part of improving our economy, but it’s just one factor. In regard to the economy as a whole, what candidate will represent the best interest of the people rather than big business, including big oil? I will also ask what candidate is more likely to continue the war in Iraq, and possibly engage in new wars? Because the price at the gas pump doesn’t compare to the price we are paying for the Iraq war, which will cost $3 trillion plus—now that’s economic crazy talk!But back to the issue of energy, will more domestic drilling help us? People need to stick to the facts if they really want answers to this question. To begin, I encourage people to do the homework for themselves—and more importantly, know the guidelines for determining what a reliable source is when they do it (hint, Rush Limbaugh is not considered a credible source).Here are the questions I’ve had:1) How much of a factor is speculation in setting the price of oil?2) If we drill more oil, how soon can we expect any relief in prices at the pump?3) When oil is drilled in U.S. territory, is it slated for domestic use, or is it sold on the global market?4) How much known reserves are there in U.S. territories?5) If we produced more oil, including lower grade crude, do we have refineries that can handle the larger quantity and/or lower grade of crude?6) How much public land is already approved for drilling that isn’t being utilized, and if not, why not?7) Are there legitimate environmental concerns, for example, how much are the refineries and off-shore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico at risk during hurricane season?8) Is it short-term thinking to remain addicted to fossil fuel rather than focusing on new alternative forms of energy?Here is some of what I’ve found so far:1) While there are many factors affecting the price of oil (global demand, value of US$, inventories, etc.) supply and demand is NOT the only factor. Speculation has contributed to the soaring prices for oil. Congress seems to think so too. “Lawmakers are threatening to get tough on traders and have introduced 9 different bills.”—on CNN Money (http://money.cnn.com/2008/06/24/news/economy/oil_legislation/?postversion=2008062413) Though supply hasn’t changed and demand continues to increase, why the swings in price including the recent drop in price? Interestingly, when lawmakers began to make these regulatory threats, traders backed off and prices dropped.2) The time frame for if/when more drilling would bring relief at the pump has been all over the map. Once again, here is what the EIA reports:”But there’s a flaw in that logic: even if tomorrow we opened up every square mile of the outer continental shelf to offshore rigs, even if we drilled the entire state of Alaska and pulled new refineries out of thin air, the impact on gas prices would be minimal and delayed at best. A 2004 study by the government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) found that drilling in ANWR would trim the price of gas by 3.5 cents a gallon by 2027. (If oil prices continue to skyrocket, the savings would be greater, but not by much.)” – http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1815884,00.htmlBy 2027 is hardly in a year or two as claimed by Republicans/FOX News. Also, see: “Arctic Drilling Wouldn’t Cool High Oil Prices—Federal energy analysts say it would take 10 years for production to begin, and its impact could be very modest” -http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/national/2008/05/23/arctic-drilling-wouldnt-cool-high-oil-prices.html3) Finding information on how U.S. oil is sold is difficult. It appears that most may be slated for domestic consumption, but not all. More importantly, it appears U.S. oil is nonetheless sold in the U.S. according to global pricing. So it remains questionable in my mind whether drilling more oil in the U.S. will significantly reduce the price of gas in the U.S. regardless of how quickly it could be produced.4) Reserves are also difficult to determine, because even the experts have different numbers, but it was reported on MSNBC that the U.S. has only about 6% of the world’s known reserves. Here is information from Wikipedia:”United States proven oil reserves were 21 billion barrels (3.3Ã—109 m3) in 2006 according to the Energy Information Administration.  This represents a decline of 46%, or 18 billion barrels (2.9Ã—109 m3) from 39 billion barrels (6.2Ã—109 m3) in 1970. U.S. crude production peaked in 1970 at 9.6 million barrels per day (1.53Ã—106 m3/d), and had declined 47% to 5.1 million barrels per day (810Ã—103 m3/d) by 2006.  United States crude oil production has been declining since reaching a smaller secondary production peak in 1988 (caused by Alaskan production). Total production of crude oil from 1970 through 2006 was 102 billion barrels (16.2Ã—109 m3), or roughly five and a half times the decline in proved reserves.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves#United_StatesBased on these numbers from the EIA, this calculates to about 11 years of supply, though I’ve heard it as being as high as 60 years supply (at current consumption) from oil company advertisement. Okay, so let’s say there are more reserves to be tapped than indicated by the EIA, or that there is a 60-year supply rather than 11 years. That still means drilling is a temporary strategy. And this kind of short-term, instant-gratification consumer mentality is why the Middle East is now a thorn in our side, and why countries like China will soon kick our bums as well.Further to this topic, and in regard to reserves such as oil shell, these reserves are expensive to extract. I recently read an article in the financial section of MSN that discussed Exxon/Mobil and their requirement for a minimum ROI in order to drill. As such, government tax credit subsidies have not been an incentive for them in regard to land already approved for exploration/drilling (or for that matter alternative energy). Unless there is low-hanging fruit to be picked with large profits, they won’t go after it. -http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/2007/04/30/8405398/index.htm5) This financial article is a good overview on refineries – “Behind high gas prices: The refinery crunch” http://money.cnn.com/2007/04/17/news/economy/refineries/index.htm. “So why hasn’t a new refinery been built since 1976?” I live near one, and it isn’t pleasant. As with nuclear waste, no one wants it in their backyard. Sure, there are environmental laws that make it more expensive to build a refinery now, but with the large profits oil companies are raking in, what’s their excuse? Let’s face it. A just-in-time delivery method controls for risk and is more profitable for oil companies. So in the meantime we are stuck with limited refineries, not only in regard to quantity, but also in regard to capability to refine lower-quality crude. -http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/04_46/b3908079.htm6) This is a great article in regard to the topic of U.S. reserves in general, but this is what is said specifically about leased land:”But for all this activity, the Wilderness Society says, in a state like Colorado, where 4.9 million acres are leased out, just 1.4 million acres are under production. And o
f 7,124 drilling permits approved on public lands in fiscal year 2007, only 5,343 wells were drilled. Whether the cause of the lag time between leasing federal lands and producing oil and natural gas is due to environmental restrictions or strategy by energy companies, the delays mean that “opening protected areas of the coasts or public lands to new leasing is not going to lower the price of gasoline,” said David Alberswerth, a senior policy adviser at the Wilderness Society.”http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/us/03drill.htmlOnce again, it is difficult to find reliable articles on this topic (which makes me more wary of what people like Rush are claiming). But it appears that the Rockies are mostly natural gas reserves, so that leaves extreme and expensive areas like Alaska, and risky areas like off-shore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.7) How risky is it to increase drilling in the Gulf, and in regard to refineries in the same area? Remembering Katrina, we know there is some risk. Apparently speculators think so too. “And given that the hurricane season is not even halfway over, traders remain nervous about the possibility of storms striking oil facilities in the Gulf of Mexico.” – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12400801/If the burning of fossil fuel is contributing to global warming, and ice caps continue to melt causing sea levels to rise, areas in the Gulf such as New Orleans will be at even more risk.8) The answer to this last question is a no-brainer so doesn’t even warrant Googling. Even if one doesn’t believe in global warming (or the more acceptable term “climate change”), people do believe that pollution is a real problem. But what if a focus on alternative energy could also create jobs and possibly exports? More drilling won’t do any of this in improving our economy.Pelosi told CNN’s Larry King late Monday: “Well, we can do that [drill in protected areas]. We can have a vote on that. But it has to be part of something that says we want to bring immediate relief to the public and not just a hoax on them.” http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0808/11/lkl.01.htmlYes, our oil, as well as coal and gas resources will need to be part of our energy plan in the interim. But fellow Americans—please take off your “happy ears,” and don’t be so gullible during this election year. Please use the Rule of Reason when you go to the polls.