Memo To Sen. Barack Obama: Beware of your friends and their opinions.
For example, Rep. Edward Markey was on a Sunday talk show allegedly defending your position on offshore drilling. But, in fact, the Massachusetts Democrat was defending his own long-held and irrelevant views. You just had an epiphany on campaign finance. Now, you need to have one on energy. At this point, the world needs oil and will need it for many decades. True, the United States will not get any new oil from the outer continental shelf for 10 years, and it will only account for about 4 percent of our needs as long as it lasts. But even that is essential.
Memo To The Friends Of Sen. John McCain: Just when you thought your candidate had settled down to be George W. Bush Lite, he up and proved that old mavericks cannot change their ways. McCain split the difference on oil by reversing himself on outer continental shelf drilling and remaining adamant on not drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This put Tom Ridge, the former homeland security chief, on the spot on a Sunday talk show. Ridge simply could not explain the inconsistency of McCain, whose presidential bid he supports.
No matter what you believe should be done, the irrefutable fact is that the world is in a terrible energy bind–and all the indications are that the world energy situation may get worse.
Politicians of the left want to believe that there are technologies ready to come on line, and they are being squeezed out by old-line energy companies. They place their faith in what are referred loosely as “alternatives,” which include solar, wind and geothermal power. These they see as being the equivalent of low-impact aerobics. Painless and environmentally neutral. These politicians oppose the burning of coal and have no coherent policy on oil and gas. They choose to believe that the current high price of oil is a combination of oil company greed, Wall Street speculation, and the Bush administration’s appeasement of the Saudi royal family.
Conservative politicians have as much problem facing reality as their liberal colleagues. They have an inordinate faith that current off-limits drilling areas, both in the ocean and on land, will produce untold quantities of energy for the United States. They have considerable faith in new technologies that will clean up coal, find oil at ever-greater depths, and exploit gas hydrates on the ocean floor. They also believe that oil shale in the West, abandoned in the 1970s because of the environmental consequences of mining and the shortage of water, will replace Saudi Arabia.
One thing the left and the right do agree on is that plug-in hybrid vehicles are going to help a lot. The theory is that they will make a big dent in the 20 million barrels of oil that the United States gulps down every day; that is 10,000 gallons of gasoline every second, according to John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Company.
There is an energy establishment, and it is of one mind on energy challenges. This is the thrust of its thinking:
l Energy conservation is essential
l The outer continental shelf should be explored aggressively, along with federal lands
l ANWR should be drilled immediately, and a natural gas pipeline from Alaska should have priority
l Nuclear power is the best substitute for the coal now being burned and to replace geriatric plant
l Coal gasification is the best way to burn coal
l Wind power works and should be encouraged; in particular, storing wind energy as compressed air needs research
l Liquefied natural gas imports need to be boosted
l The search for new technologies needs to be relentless
l Energy producers, from oil companies to wind farms to electric utilities, need consistency in public policy
The unsaid addendum to the establishment thinking is that Obama needs to get some energy advisers who have a solid purchase on the Earth, and that McCain needs to listen to his advisers. In 1974, governments fell like ninepins as the global economy was battered by high energy prices. The battering next time may be much worse.