05/04/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"Drill, Baby, Drill" Won't Give Us the Energy We Need

During the summer of 2008, the right worked hard to contrive a cynical, willfully ignorant message that offshore drilling would somehow be the answer to high gas prices. Never mind that it wasn't true. Never mind that even the oil companies were lackluster in their support of this high risk, low return scheme. It was a message, a theme, a battle cry and an emotional high point of Sarah Palin's stump speech. She sang out for offshore drilling in that flat, folksy voice and the crowds went wild chanting "Drill, Baby, Drill!"

She, and the other ideologues promoting this dubious scheme, cared not about the economic realities of drilling, the speculative over-reaching on oil reserve numbers, or the millions of gallons of crude oil sludge that have ruined, and will continue to blight, our oceans and coasts. Nope. Just Drill, Baby, Drill.2010-03-04-Oilspillwink.jpg

The election ended. Gas prices dipped a bit. Off shore leases went on sale and got a tepid response. Oil spills continued to pollute the oceans.

Cut to 2010. President Obama's 2010 State of the Union address called for making "tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development." Now this phrase may not have the same rhetorical flourish as "drill, baby, drill". And it is tucked into a paragraph that makes reference to several good and bad ideas about energy. This time, however, it's not a rallying cry for the right. It's a rallying cry for environmentalists to take notice of another detour on the road to a clean energy future.

Offshore drilling sounds just as unreasonable when President Obama calls for it in his more understated and eloquent style, as it did in Sarah Palin's ragged stump speech. It's still a bad idea and it is not the way out of our energy problems. Not by a long shot. Of all the dirty, inefficient energy ideas out there, offshore drilling stands out as the one that, in spite of the damage it would do, cannot even contribute materially to generating the energy we need. It is a lot of work, money and damage to the environment for what is, in the grand scheme of things, a very small amount of oil that would be burned up in about 11 years.

The highly touted offshore leases made available when the Bush Administration lifted the drilling moratorium in 2008 resulted in very tepid interest. Of the 3,412 tracts offered, only 347 bids were received . The dollar amounts of those bids were cumulatively hundreds of millions of dollars short of the values projected by the ideological proponents of drilling. In 2009, results were even more lackluster. This is due in large part to the expense involved in recovering the oil and the large acreage of unused offshore leases already held by oil companies.

We can save far more oil from improving fuel efficiency and reducing consumption than all the oil that can be reasonably extracted from our fragile ocean environment. The rhetoric about "safe and clean" methods of drilling is largely magical thinking. It is impossible to run an industrial scale operation to extract oil from the ocean floor and then transport it around the world in inconsistently regulated tankers without having accidents. And there is no controlling the scale of the accidents. That's why they're called "accidents."

Offshore drilling. It's a bad idea. Costs too much, dangerous to the environment, doesn't solve the problem. Ask for it by name!