oil pump“Drill, baby, drill” is kind of fun to chant, I suppose, but does it really make any sense? Bruce Ramsey seems to think so.

His Seattle Timescolumn today so exemplifies the tortured logic behind drilling that I want to spend a few minutes refuting it. Not to pick on Ramsey, but to point out what’s wrong with the idea.

 Early on in the piece Ramsey allows this:

It is said, for example, that drilling won’t produce enough oil to give Americans energy independence, or to arrest the decline in U.S. production, or to produce any new oil for several years. All of which are probably true.

Wait, what? That’s all true? To his credit, Ramsey’s trying to take a clear-eyed approach to problem. He’s being honest.

So let’s get this straight: even drilling supporters agree that it won’t provide energy independence, meaningfully improve our production, or even give us any at all energy for “several” years (aka “many” years).

I don’t know about you, but those seem like pretty big strikes to me. Especially in light of these two facts:

  • The Pacific Northwest is hemorraghing $61 million each day on oil and gas. Every penny of that leaves the region to pay for what Ramsey later admits is an addiction.
    • North Pole Ever Closer To Having No Ice“—that’s a headline in Ramsey’s cross-town newspaper rival, the P-I. And it’s no joke. Fossil fuel combustion is fundamentally—and quickly—changing the very nature of the earth.

    Just so everyone’s perfectly clear, the reason not to drill is because it prolongs our addiction to oil. And that addiction is 1) bankrupting us; and 2) destroying the planet.

    Apart from that, more drilling is a fine idea.

  • Ramsey runs through a pretty conventional list of alternative energy sources. Ethanol doesn’t really pencil out as an energy-saver. Biodiesel doesn’t scale up yet. Other alternative fuels aren’t ready for prime time. So, he concludes, we’d better get our hands on all the oil we can find.

    One could quibble, I guess, but let’s not. Let’s just note that he forgets to mention the one source of energy that is available right now and that is, quite literally, cheaper than free. It’s called efficiency. Those of us who don’t want to simultaneously destroy our economy and wreck our planet tend to rant a lot about efficiency, but it really is worth ranting about.

    As Clark pointed out yesterday, efficiency pays you money even in the worst market conditions. And as I’ve argued in the past, it’s incredibly easy to reduce our oil consumption. Minor tweaks to fuel economy standards, for instance, can yield huge wins right now. In fact, switching from a 15 to 18 mpg car saves more fuel than switching from a 50 to 100 mpg car. (True.) For the moment, we don’t need fancy next-generation technology (though we will down the road). We need ordinary common-sense investments.

    Pretty much everyone who studies energy comes to the same conclusion: we’re wasting a ton of it. I’m talking about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the McKinsey Global Institute, the Conference Board, the American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy (ACEE), the Oak Ridge and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories… The list could go on much longer.

    Consider just one highly detailed study of studies from ACEEE:

    Based on a review of 48 different assessments, this report highlights the findings of a wide variety of studies that explore the many possibilities of further gains in energy efficiency, especially at the regional and state level. The studies reviewed here show an average 23 percent efficiency gain with a nearly 2 to 1 benefit-cost ratio. From analyzing this set of studies, we estimate that a 20 percent to 30 percent energy efficiency gain within the U.S. economy might lead to a net gain of 500,000 to 1,500,000 jobs by 2030. Based on these studies, the expectation is that efficiency-led policies would likely increase the nation’s GDP by about 0.1 percent, also by 2030.

    Never mind the massive benefit for climate protection, efficiency is an energy strategy that actually makes economic sense. That’s in sharp contrast to drilling for oil, which does little more than tighten the handcuffs that bind us to global oil price shocks.

    Ramsey even acknowledges that we need to get off oil. But here’s what he says:

    Ultimately, we will have to get ourselves addicted to something other than petroleum. By saying, “Don’t drill now”—in Alaska or elsewhere—we shorten the time we have to get ready. And we are not ready.

    Hmmm, that’s a revealing formulation—“addicted to something other”—and it’s the logic of a junkie. Our current dealers won’t sell us enough of what we want. We’re flat broke and the supply is running out. So what’s the smart thing to do? Plunder our future savings to afford a another dealer who will keep us in the good stuff? I mean, we can always kick the habit later, right?

    Or maybe we should admit that we have a problem and stop spending our money on the addiction. I don’t think we don’t need a new dealer. I think we need a New Deal for energy.