I was planning on ignoring this column from Charles Krauthammer — always a good idea — but two or three people have asked me about it now, so I guess it’s worth saying something.
Krauthammer’s thesis is that when we put areas in the U.S. off limits to oil drilling, we push drilling into countries that have less sophisticated technology and fewer regulatory restrictions, thereby doing more environmental damage in the aggregate. In other words, by protecting the American environment here we hurt the environment globally.
There are a dizzying number of economic and national security arguments for drilling at home: a $700 billion oil balance-of-payments deficit, a gas tax (equivalent) levied on the paychecks of American workers and poured into the treasuries of enemy and terror-supporting regimes, growing dependence on unstable states of the Persian Gulf and Caspian basin. Pelosi and the Democrats stand athwart, shouting: We don’t care. We come to save the planet!
I guess I see why this argument has some prima facie appeal, but on the merits it really is total nonsense.
What Krauthammer has constructed is an extremely good case for using less oil. Saving a barrel of oil is cheaper than buying one. It leaves the environment untouched (in Nigeria too), lowers the trade deficit, reduces transportation costs for Americans, and makes the U.S. less dependent on foreign regimes.
What Krauthammer has not done is make a case for drilling in protected U.S. areas, which would accomplish none of those goals. Not one. In 10 years when we got the oil, it would go straight to the global market, making a tiny ripple and otherwise having no effect whatsoever.
What neither approach will do, at least in the short- to mid-term, is prevent drilling in Nigeria or anywhere else. Supply is so tight and demand from China and India is rising so fast, any oil on the margin — either produced by us or saved by us — will be hoovered up immediately.
We could try to keep up in the race of producing and procuring as much oil as possible, but that’s increasingly a mug’s game. The smarter thing to do in the long run is to model a developed economy that becomes more robust, resilient, and self-reliant by using less fossil fuel. If we pull that off, maybe Nigeria will follow suit. That’s about the only thing I can think of that will ever prevent drillable oil from getting drilled.