FLORENCE GILKESON: Reasons for Doubt on Offshore Drilling
As gas prices climb and the economy continues to plummet, politicians are flip-flopping all over the place when it comes to offshore drilling. The argument for change of opinion usually goes something like this: The public is demanding it.
I'm part of the public, and I'm not convinced. Not yet, at least.
Too many questions are not answered to my satisfaction. If drilling were permitted off the coast of North Carolina, what effect would it have on the ecosystem of eastern North Carolina? How would it effect our tourism industry? Even if drilling platforms were erected so far away that they did not mar coastal scenery, what would be the increased odds for oil tanker accidents on our coastline?
Carrying the what-if line of questioning even further, I want to know the effect of the next mean hurricane that hits our shores.
I don't understand why oil companies cannot use existing leases. I don't know how many years it will take to find oil and extract it from offshore areas and refine it for use in cars, furnaces and manufacturing.
The public clamoring for offshore drilling must surely be aware that congressional and state legislative approval would not mean any immediate drop in gas prices. Or would it? The volatility of oil pricing is a wondrous thing.
Perhaps I'm overly cynical, but I have a suspicion that prices might go down a little if oil companies were granted this boon. However, I am entirely too cynical to believe that prices would stay down. The day of buying a dollar's worth of gas until your next paycheck is long gone.
The vagaries of the oil market are hard to fathom. In some ways it is a marvel that gas in years past has been as inexpensive as it once was. You have to consider the cost of exploring for oil, then in acquiring the property (whether by sale of land or lease of mineral rights, or by whatever means), then the cost of extracting oil, transporting it, refining it, storage, transportation and distribution.
My head is still spinning from the speed with which gas prices at the pump climbed so quickly with the approach of Hurricane Ike to the Gulf of Mexico.
Or maybe that's not the speed I noticed with astonishment. The real speed was in the rumor market, which began making the rounds early in the week when Ike was still menacing Haiti and Cuba. I heard it first on public radio with reports that business was so brisk in some places that gas stations were limiting gas purchases to 10 gallons. Then I drove by a favorite station and observed for myself that vehicles were lined up at the pumps.
So goes the hysteria of our times.
It puzzles me that supposedly intelligent people are so easily duped into believing that a Band-Aid will heal a gaping head wound. Every time gas prices climb so high that consumers start crying foul, someone, usually a politician, starts talking about reducing the gas tax. It's true that the gas tax is high in North Carolina, but cutting the tax won't make more gas available. It certainly won't cut the price charged by oil companies and handed down to the consumer.
Instead of cutting the gas tax, we need to use that tax money more wisely. In North Carolina we could start by demanding that the state restore the funds transferred from the highway trust fund into the General Fund some years ago when the state was in a financial fix.
That gas tax money can be put to good use by building good highways where they are really needed and by repairing existing roads. Highways that are well-maintained make it easier to drive, cause fewer accidents and help us to use less gas in the long run. It's the same reason we need to keep our cars serviced. Call it a wise investment.
Hysteria was down a few days after Ike, and prices at the pump dropped a few cents. What we need is not more offshore drilling. What we need is a combination package emphasizing new, clean and renewable sources of energy and conservation through discipline and new technology. The time to start is now.
Wisdom is often found in the comic strips. A child character in Jef Mallett's "Frazz" amused and amazed me recently when he held up his plastic dinosaur and pondered the fact that material used to make the toy once really was a dinosaur.
Dinosaurs have long been extinct. I'm wondering if their remains will soon be just as extinct, along with our natural environment.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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