Lindsey Graham, a politician who believes issues should be kept simple for the benefit of simple-minded constituents, supports offshore drilling, according to the May 9 article "Spill doesn't change legislators' opinions" because "it is essential for the U.S. to become energy independent." Of course it is, but drilling offshore will do little or nothing to achieve that independence, and Graham knows he is being disingenuous by suggesting the two are related.
Graham also argues that we make America safer by keeping American dollars out of the hands of terrorists. "Every barrel we can find in the United States is one less we have to import from OPEC." Absolutely true and totally irrelevant. U.S. dollars are the currency of the world's oil trade, and given current world demand, no serious person believes the Organization for Petroleum Exporting Countries will receive fewer dollars if America exploits its modest holdings.
Graham's arguments arise out of the primordial intellectual ooze that maintains that all issues should be a lot simpler than they are. The fact that his party bathes in this ooze does not make their fiction more factual. Among the most egregious fallacies in the senator's reasoning are the following:
1. Independence: The quantities of petroleum reserves identified off our two coasts are not inconsequential - fully exploited they could supply the current U.S. demand for up to eight years starting as early as 2015. Of course no one suggests that is a realistic scenario. They would, in fact, replace only a small percentage of our Middle East oil consumption, not end it. When these wells run out, OPEC would have leverage over us that China would envy.
2. Safety: Engineers are human and therefore fallible. While Graham says he want to "safely" drill off our coasts, he has not announced any new technology to prevent catastrophes such as the one now incurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Did BP not wish to minimize spills in order to maximize profits? Was the BP backup system flawed in some way he can fix? What new proposals do engineers have to assure us that Gulf-sized spills cannot occur off California, Florida, South Carolina or Virginia? What would the long-term cost of such a spill be? If we lose our shrimp and oysters from the Gulf, who among us will maintain that the gamble paid off? No responsible engineer will ever claim to have deployed a system that cannot fail. As Graham knows, such systems do not exist.
3. Pricing and profit: While Graham didn't base his argument on prices, increasing costs at the pump could cause pressure for offshore drilling. But oil leases are awarded to the highest bidders, so there is little or no assurance that any oil recovered would result in lower U.S. gas prices. Will BP, a likely winning bidder for some of those leases, search for opportunities to help the U.S. consumer? Oil prices fluctuate with supply and demand, and the U.S., unless it drastically curbs demand, has little ability to affect price. The power of the oil lobby and our infatuation with the energy status quo mean than an aggressive national program to end oil dependence by turning to other technologies is the only conceivable antidote.
4. Risk reward: Graham is peculiarly quiet about the risk/reward tradeoffs of offshore drilling, perhaps because of his delusional confidence that nothing can go wrong. If petroleum washes up on South Carolina's shores, what becomes of one of its biggest industries, tourism, and the tens of thousands of jobs that would be placed at risk? This is a rhetorical question - its answer is self-evident.
The writer lives in Pawleys Island.