THE BLOG
11/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why We Just Need 306,000 People to Say Thanks, But No Thanks, To Offshore Drilling


Just because Congress has allowed the ban on drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf to expire doesn't mean we need to throw our hands in the air and watch idly as the oil companies swoop in and make a profit. In fact, we don't even need to allow all this petty, ridiculous talk about "Drill Here, Drill Now" to distract us from the larger challenge of lowering energy prices, getting off foreign oil and addressing climate change. Despite the fact that our leaders have already said 'yes' to offshore drilling, it isn't too late to change that answer to 'thanks, but no thanks.' All we need are 306,000 people willing to show our leaders how eager Americans are, as Thomas Friedman likes to say, to do nation building here at home.

Let's first, as many have already done, put the whole offshore drilling debate in perspective. The U.S. currently imports 630 million gallon of oil a day. According the Department of Energy, additional offshore drilling would bring online an additional 153 million gallons of oil A YEAR by 2017, reaching a maximum of roughly 300 million gallons by 2030.

There are lots of ways to save more oil, at little or no cost, than we would get from drilling. For example, if the Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards (CAFE) were set at 40 miles per gallon, the U.S. would save 3.4 million barrels (142,800,000 gallons) of oil a day, or almost as much oil as additional offshore drilling would produce in a year. As an added benefit, this would nearly completely eliminate our need for foreign oil. And let's not forget that the savings would go to American families instead of multinational oil companies. But let's be honest: getting Congress to do anything bold these days isn't terribly likely. It seems, then, that we need to bypass our paralyzed leadership and show them, from the ground up, that we are tired of the status quo and are ready to move into a new era of health, wealth and prosperity.

Actually, we don't even need all of America to participate. My simple proposal is as follows: given that the average American car consumes 500 gallons of gasoline per year, we would only need 306,000 drivers--or just under half the population of the state of Alaska--to give up their cars for 365 days in order to save as much gasoline in 2009 as we would gain from offshore drilling in 2017. I know, I know, not everyone can do without their car. Fortunately, in this case that doesn't matter. With roughly 200 million American drivers, it would only take .0015% of them to boldly volunteer to save money, reduce stress, get in shape and partake in a broader movement to refocus a nation that, in so many ways, is losing its way.

These 306,000 individuals could walk, take the bus, train, or subway, ride their bikes or carpool. The only requirement is that they not drive their car for an entire year. Ideally they would cancel their insurance, saving even more money in the process. Each year a different group of people could sign up for the challenge, although I wouldn't be surprised if many participants found that they could do without a car after all. This group of committed people would then be in a position to go to Congress and say: "thanks, but no thanks, to offshore drilling. Instead of dumbing down the debate about energy policy, we want you to come up with real solutions that will challenge American citizens and companies to do become leaders, create jobs, truly lower energy prices, and enable us to get our military out of the business of protecting pipelines."

High gas prices have already lead to record reductions in miles driven, record public transportation ridership, and more bicyclists on the roads. For now, these trends are being driven not by the shared goal of creating a better America, but by a desire to save money at the pump which, while entirely understandable, will only last as long as global oil prices remain high. Of course, if Americans really can't conceive of a life without their cars, an unbelievably simple alternative would be to ask to every driver to curtail their driving by roughly 20 miles per year to save as much gas as offshore drilling would produce (assuming average fuel economy of 25 MPG). That said, most statistics indicate that somewhere around half a million Americans commute to work by bicycle, so in essence I am advocating, more or less, a doubling of that figure.

There are infinite permutations that would lead to saving as much gas as the drilling would uncover. The reason I have focused on an option that involves some personal sacrifice is that, at least from the perspective of a young person like myself, I see a lot of energy in a lot of people that isn't being tapped because the conversation is about tapping the resources under the sea rather than in the hearts and minds Americans; that, more than anything, is the danger of offshore drilling. We are not being given the opportunity to shine as a nation. What I'm proposing is a voluntary movement to show ourselves, our political leaders and the world that we are eager to challenge ourselves to take the lead on global challenges. The benefits to those that participate, and to society as a whole, would far outweigh the minor inconvenience of occasionally sweating in the summer, getting wet from the rain, or feeling the cold air of a winter day.

In the end, there are no easy solutions to difficult problems. After all, while on the face of it offshore drilling may appear to be an easy way to lower gas prices and reduce dependence on foreign oil, the truth is that it would do neither. But more importantly, as a strategy for revitalizing the nation, offshore drilling is most certainly a bridge to nowhere, and as we've seen in the last month, politicians will support these bridges only until they become a national embarrassment.

Sources:
Department of Energy and
Nicolas School of Environment at Duke

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