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A. Siegel

A. Siegel

Posted: July 14, 2008 09:12 AM

Lying to Drill the Hole Deeper


The push is on, big time. The solution to all of America's problems, evidently, is to drill, drill, drill. This is now the Republican mantra as they seem to believe that they have found a winning political issue, no matter what the implications of this "win" might be for America's future.

Let us be clear. Efforts to increase (actually, struggle to maintain) America's oil production can be part of a holistic energy package. But, to be clear, only part: far more critical is to use efficiency to produce nega-gallons to help provide some breathing space to move as much of America's transportation off oil. (To me, the most fruitful path for results by 2020 is mass electrification: rail and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles along with GEM-full flex-fuel for the liquid portion of the ground transportation system.) Even if transportation is 100% non-oil, we will still want oil for many industrial processes and to support manufacture of many products. But, efforts and discussion to explore additional oil production should be part of a larger discussion. And, they should be grounded in truth.

George W Bush, in Saturday's radio address, provided a clear example of how truthiness, rather than truth, reigns in the efforts to promote oil exploration and drilling in the outer continental shelf (OCS).

From that radio chat:

First, we should expand American oil production by increasing access to offshore exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf, or OCS. Experts believe that the OCS that is currently off-limits could produce enough oil to match America's current production for almost ten years.

Wow. The OCS would match today's US oil production for almost ten years? Want lower oil prices? Want Energy Independence? The answer is clear, Drill the OCS, NOW! That is, clear until you examine what the experts actually are saying.
A report last year by the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said that "access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017." WashPost

George W Bush stated, quite bluntly, that opening up the OCS could match today's total US oil production for a decade. He failed to mention that this would have minimal, if any impact, on America's energy posture for literally decades. The Administration's own experts, who are far from enemies of the oil industry and oil production, state that this move would not begin to produce oil until one year short of that ten years and that would "not have a significant impact on domestic production ... before 2030." And, in 2030, that production level would be just a three percent increase on the case without additional OCS drilling. That three percent is only the slightest fraction of today's American oil production.


The United States is producing about 5.1 million barrels of oil per day. The EIA estimate is that the additional offshore drilling would add 200,000 barrels to the 2030 production. To place this into context, US consumption is about 21 million barrels per day. Thus, the entire Republican effort to open up offshore drilling is talking about providing one percent of today's consumption levels 23 years from now.

George says that additional OCS drilling "could produce enough oil to match America's current production for almost ten years". He forgets to mention that that "could" is a "maybe, perhaps, best case" as to that amount of production (that all those birds in the bush will become birds in Bush's hands) and that this production would be over decades of time, even into the 22d century. At what point do truthiness and disingenuous arguments simply become lying?

Okay, who are you going to believe and place faith in? George's radio address or the detailed reporting from the Energy Information Administration?

Bush, in that radio address, also pushed hard for other failed or reckless policies. For example, he provided a strong push for Oil Shale development. Of course, no mention of the very serious water and Global Warming implications of pursuing this path forward.

Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell has been similarly disingenuous, stating with authority truthiness ungrounded in fact. From today's Washington Post:

"I think people are reassured that not a drop of oil was spilled during Katrina or Rita," McConnell said. "Those rigs in the Gulf, there was not a single incident of spillage that anyone reported."

From that same article,

the Minerals Management Service of the Interior Department reported that there were five spills, each between 1,000 and 2,000 barrels. Altogether, 125 small spills totaled 16,302 barrels [...]

Right Mitch, "not a single incident of spillage that anyone reported" as long as we don't pay attention to reporting from oil companies, drilling rigs, environmental organizations, journalists, state governments, and the US government's Minerals Management Service.

John McCain has been similarly disingenous. For example, he has stated, after flip-flopping his long-held principled opposition to coastal drilling to politically convenient support of drilling (of course having nothing to do with the over $1 million he and the $4+ million the RNC have received from the oil industry), "we have untapped oil reserves of at least 21 billion barrels in the United States." Actually, according to the US Geological Survey, we have "undiscovered conventionally recoverable resources" of 17.8 million barrels. A simple way to explain it: reserves are birds in the hand, resources are birds in the bush -- quite possible and interesting possibilities, but still uncertain. Okay, that is just detail. How about this element of McCain's claims?

I'll call for lifting the federal moratorium for states that choose to permit exploration. I think that this and perhaps providing additional incentives for states to permit exploration off their coasts would be very helpful in the short term in resolving our energy crisis.
Okay, apologies, I can't resist: Maybe after passing his 70th birthday, "short term" has a different meaning for John McCan than it does for 99.9% of Americans. Again, apologies for that cheap shot but is this truthiness lying or simply a total lack of understanding of energy issues?

As legendary oilman (and massive Republican Party contributor) T Boone Pickens has said:

I've been an oilman all my life. But this is one emergency that we can't drill our way out of.

Again, this post is not an argument that, at some point, new drilling and exploration are not part of a holistic energy package. (Even thought, in fact, there are huge tracts of land and ocean already leased to oil companies which they have yet to explore and begin to drill.) This is, however, a call for honesty in the discussion and debate. A standard that George W Bush failed to meet in Saturday's radio address and that John McCain is failing to meet in his campaign outings.