Gas Price Debate Ignores the Real Issue

In the current debate about rising gas prices, as expected, the Republicans have politicized it; President Obama has made a spirited defense of his policies pointing out that we are already drilling at record levels; and experts have pointed out that there is not much that can be done about it. No one has cogently touched on what is really at stake here.

In the early 1980s we had an even greater gas crisis, with both rising prices, and severe shortages (and angry lines at gas pumps). The crises passed (because there were actually decent supplies available, and part of the shortage was artificial). We continued with our massive consumption of fossil fuels. Thus, we have arrived at 2012, with precisely the same, and unresolved, concerns we had 30 years ago.

I recently watched the film "Judgment at Nuremburg." In the most dramatic scene of the movie, Maximilian Schell, who plays the defense attorney Herr Rolfe for the accused Nazis, begins to violently harass a witness for the prosecution. One of the defendants, played by Burt Lancaster stops Schell by loudly proclaiming: “Are we going to do this again Herr Rolfe”?

After ignoring the warning of the 1980s the question the nation must ask is: “Are we going to do this again?” This is the true issue— not the price of gas. The fact is, we absolutely cannot “drill” our way out of this situation (as President Obama has pointed out) for a variety of reasons, including the time and expense of bringing new crude to market. Even more significant is the fact that the United States oil reserves (listed at 20.7 Billion BBLs) are high on the list of proven reserves globally. That number is declining steadily as we maintain our massive consumption level of roughly 21 million barrels/day. About half of that oil is imported, and will likely remain that way. Even with the vaunted Bakken field (about 4 billion barrels estimated reserve) and opening the Alaskan wildlife area to drilling – new reserves are not going to help with gas prices today. They would help only moderately if or when they come online. To claim new reserves are some sort of energy panacea is not factual. Even worse, such claims are going to inhibit us from the discussion we should be having as gas prices rise. “Are we going to do this again?”

The reality is that all fossil fuels have a finite life. They are not the future for the next generations. Moreover, the production of these fuels is getting more expensive and harder to find. The low hanging fruit of crude oil is…gone! Not even touching upon the environmental issues fossil fuels bring, producers must now go 15,000 below the ocean floor; fracture rock to get at meager reserves; and process tar sands (a dirty, expensive and water-wasteful process to make a viable product) to meet demand. We now have an incredibly valuable “wake up call” to find alternatives and solutions for upcoming generations. Time is not on our side. Any solutions may be decades away, in both the development and the deployment. Yet, the politicians still regale us with their ideas to lower gas prices next week, or next month, or next election. Rhetoric does not serve our country well. It is not only disingenuous, it is dishonest.

What we need now are clear, intelligent, calm voices on how we are going to survive on this planet with less fossil fuel. If we think oil (and resultant gas) is expensive now, it is guaranteed the last barrel of oil removed from earth decades from now will be so expensive, so unique, so precious, it will be enshrined in the Smithsonian – however, unless we get smarter, no one will be able to get there to see it.

So again, we must go back to Judgment at Nuremburg and ask the question Lancaster asked Schell’s Herr Rolfe: “Are we going to do this again?”

Posted in Economic Development | Related Topics: Energy 

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