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Owning Up to Our Oil Addiction

Posted: 07/13/10 02:48 PM ET

Why was BP drilling in 5,000 feet of water, and then drilling down 17,000 feet below the floor of the ocean, 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in the first place? "There's a very simple explanation which is embarrassing to the nation as it relates to the rest of the world," said retired Shell CEO John Hofmeister in a recent interview. "People who live near beaches don't want to see drilling rigs."

He went on to say had the situation that occurred in the Gulf taken place in 400 feet of water, the well would have been capped in a few days. While pointing a finger directly at BP, he brought up an interesting point: BP was there because we, the American gas-guzzling public, created a market and the need for them to explore for oil in such an absurd place.

Yes, we consume 20,000,000 barrels of oil a day, 65% of which is imported, and get our crude oil from countries like Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria, all the while demanding that our beautiful vistas be kept pristine. If we don't see these oil rigs, we don't live with them, and we don't think about them. Out of sight, out of mind... until April 20, 2010. Now it's not just on our minds, it's on the news, it's the subject of our daily discourse, and it's shown in pictures of oil-slicked pelicans and out-of-work fisherman. It's everywhere.

Let's look across the Atlantic for a moment. While Reagan dealt with Carter's post-oil embargo America by lowering CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards, Europe saw an opportunity to increase efficiency. They raised CAFE standards and levied taxes on petroleum, forcing people to be more efficient by driving smaller and more effective cars. And it worked. I have often read that had we followed the European model, today we would not be importing oil at all, or at least we would have the option to import it from friendlier countries and not sinking holes 22,000 feet below the surface of the ocean.

Did BP bypass one safeguard after another? Certainly. Did MMS, the government agency in charge of safety standards, fail miserably? No question. Did we push them to this point in the first place? Without a doubt. Politicians follow our lead. We, vain Americans, blame BP and all the others out there, but it's our addiction providing our neighborhood dealer (BP EXON SHELL), with the incentives.

I know, stuff like fast cars are sexy, SUVs are fun. Driving around in my Prius, I get a pang of German macho car envy every time I see a sleek, sexy Stuttgart-born set of wheels. But I've managed to push that vanity aside and although I'm unhappy with my receding hairline and pants that seem to get tighter all by themselves, my life hasn't negatively been affected one iota by the wheels transporting me from place to place. I won't permit myself that indulgence. Americans have had a longstanding, reckless love affair with their autos. It's an abusive relationship that has almost single-handedly dismantled one of our strongest and -- at one time -- most prideful industries. We've spent trillions of mis-allocated dollars needlessly protecting our access to Middle Eastern oil; we've lost thousands of lives in wars we don't need to be in. How much governmental underwriting does that add to the cost of a gallon of gas?

Our dependency on oil is an addiction we need to break. The government should be forcing us through rehab instead of creating misguided programs like Cash for Clunkers. Sure, the auto industry needed all the help it can get, but the government should have been subsidizing the purchase of hybrids and other cars that have the highest MPG ratings. That Federal tax credit that once went along with buying a hybrid? Gone, extinguished, used up. Ridiculous.

There is an energy bill making its way through Congress. Bipartisan leaders are proudly attaching their names to what is sure to be a watered down version when it comes up for a vote, of what sorely needs to be put in place NOW.

Some suggestions:

  1. Raise CAFÉ standards higher than what is proposed in the new Obama plan.
  2. Tax auto purchasers who buy inefficient lo MPG autos and earmark those funds to help existing auto manufacturers invest heavily in R & D to increase efficiency.
  3. Create tax credits for hybrids and high efficiency new car purchases.
  4. Create a manageable carbon tax on business.
  5. Create tax incentives for new industries pursuing ways for this country to reduce their carbon footprint.
  6. Incentivise new technology, i.e., Google has the ability with a phone app to tell a commuter the most efficient manner to get from point A to Point B, a system combining carpooling, route specs, and mass transit, but cities can't or won't adjust their bureaucracies to work and implement this.
  7. Change the playing field; figure out a way for alternative energies to become just as economical as tapping in to the local energy company.


The time is now. If the calamity in the Gulf doesn't paint a clear enough picture and sense of urgency, what the hell will? Enough of watered down politics; this is a matter of survival for generations to come. Let your congressman/senator know. It's time to be bold; enough with the compromises.