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Sarah, Plain and Simple; or, Drilling for the Superficial

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Mark Axelrod Professor of Comparative Literature, Chapman University

"Alternative sources of energy are part of the answer, but only part. There's no getting around the fact that we still need to "drill, baby, drill!" And if those in D.C. say otherwise, we need to tell them: "Yes, we can!"

If that doesn't move us, then maybe the more profound statement, "We rely on petroleum for much more than just powering our vehicles" would do it. Palinesque rhetoric (multiple apologies to Michael), this latest from her opinion piece in the National Review, never ceases to amaze me. It's as if all she has to do is say whatever comes to that facile mind and, Shazaam!, it happens.

Perhaps, it's because she's just a product of being, well, inherently superficial. I'm not going to argue with her about the need for US energy independence, but clearly one doesn't have to sing a James Taylor song to know that we can't continue burning fossil fuels forever.

No, what I find extraordinary is that even if Palin is correct and all we need to do is "Drill, baby, drill" just how long will it take and how much will it cost before that energy from off-shore drilling manifests itself at the proverbial gas pump? For Palin and her fossil foolish friends one might think that if Palin merely says it should happen, then it will quixotically happen. That appeared to be the McCain-Palin mantra during the campaign and even though McCain has been relatively silent about all that gas she's still promoting the fallacy herself.

Of course, that kind of rhetoric is specious, but Palin is and always has been the Queen of the Superficial. I'm reminded of the Indiana Republican Congressman, Earl Landgrebe, who, when confronted with the overwhelming evidence of Nixon's knowledge of, if not participation in, Watergate, merely said, "Don't confuse me with the facts!" Damn facts.

A BNET article in May, 2008, said:

A supply shortage for classes of offshore rigs capable of drilling in up to 10,000 feet of water means that the daily rate that operators pay to rent a high-end, deep-water drilling rig is now $500,000 to $550,000. That's up from a day rate of $450,000 to $500,000 a year ago-and more than double the price per day on the spot market just three years ago, according to ODS-Petrodata Consulting & Research.

The article concludes by saying, "Is an era of $700,000 day rates lurking just under the surface?" That doesn't include the cost of the oil rigs themselves and all the salient variables that go along with them. According to Bob Tippee, editor of Oil and Gas Journal, those include: but are not limited to: "water depth, production rates, pressure, temperature and stability of produced fluids, production scheme, proximity to pipelines and treatment facilities, and on and on."

In terms of how long it might take to build one of those offshore rigs, Tippee says:

The short answer on timing is anywhere from a few months for a simple, one-well production system in calm, shallow water to 5-6 years for more-complicated operations. The starting point in these estimates is the development decision. Some discoveries remain undeveloped for a long time because of questions about geology, economics, technology, etc. Costs of offshore installations range from tens of millions of dollars to more than $10 billion. The time required for a hydrocarbon molecule to move from the platform to the gasoline pump depends on many variables, too. Oil travels through a pipeline at three to eight miles per hour and in a tanker at maybe 16 knots. So much depends on distance between the field and the refinery and between the refinery and retail outlet. Oil also spends time in storage in these and other places, such as bulk terminals, depending on market and operating conditions.

Damn facts. But why deal with facts like these when a mere "Drill, baby, drill" and a flick of the wrist will suffice?

Perhaps, the most obvious question that Palin skirts is: Who's going to pay for it at the pump? It's not going to be the government and it's not going to be the energy providers. It's going to be the consumer whether that consumer is a "tea bagging, birther, deather" or not. On second thought, maybe we do need to sing a lyrical line from that James Taylor song: "Damn...Now I used to think that I was cool, Running around on fossil fuel, Until I saw what I was doing, Was driving down the road to ruin."

But don't confuse me with the facts.

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