The will to drill

Linda Longton

As gas and diesel prices hover near $5 per gallon, Americans have real concerns about our dependence on foreign oil, a habit that sucks $330 billion out of our economy each year. As they watch their pocketbooks grow thinner, it’s not surprising that a whopping 81 percent of Americans surveyed support the U.S. tapping into its own domestic energy reserves.

Truckers, whose livelihood is threatened by high fuel prices, wholeheartedly agree. In a recent poll, 55 percent cited “offshore and other domestic drilling” as the best way to reduce dependency on foreign oil, with “mandating more alternative fuel use” (26 percent), “using more coal and other energy sources” (10 percent) and “investing in nuclear energy” (9 percent) trailing well behind.

What our country needs is a strategic energy plan. What we have is one of the biggest political footballs of all time. For years we have begged at the feet of foreign leaders, putting us in a position of extreme weakness and leaving us vulnerable to the situation we find ourselves in right now.

The current crisis is an opportunity to show real leadership, but Congress instead is doing what it always does: petty political finger-pointing. Republicans say Democrats are controlled by environmental extremists. Democrats blame Republicans for ties to “big oil.” Neither side has recommended any real solutions. Big ideas out of Washington to date: Draw down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and mandate a national 55-mph speed limit. Didn’t we try that in the 1970s?

But things may be about to change. In July President Bush lifted the 18-year executive ban on offshore drilling, pressuring Congress to reciprocate by easing its own 27-year moratorium. American’s clear willingness to pursue more domestic oil has many Republicans and even some Democrats reconsidering their long-held positions. If they do, it could ease access to billions of barrels of oil and trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. That’s not even counting the vast shale reserves in the West or the massive oil and gas stores in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The main argument against increased domestic drilling is that it will take 10 years to produce any oil. But some experts say that might actually be as little as five years, possibly less, depending on how difficult it is to obtain.

Expanding our domestic production will take time, but we have to start somewhere. Had Congress passed any of the measures put before it in recent years to encourage domestic drilling, we would be years closer to greater energy independence.

Such leadership might even have prevented the mess we find ourselves in now.

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