Mike Oxford: Drilling us to distraction

Column by Mike Oxford

John McCain, Jim Gilmore and the Republican Party sure have come up with a catchy slogan for this year’s election. “Drill Here, Drill Now, Pay Less” (and its even cooler cousin, “Drill, Baby, Drill!”) is short, easy to remember, and gives folks an excuse to play dress up as oil rig workers.

Before we hop on the “drill everywhere” bandwagon, let’s examine the practical impact of the slogan and its suggested policy. If your family is like ours, you’ve noticed that the price of gasoline dropped from a peak of around $4.10 per gallon (ouch!) in mid-July to around $3.65 per gallon a week ago (right before Hurricane Ike hit Texas). That’s a drop of 45 cents (11 percent below the peak) in two months. So what caused this change?

Oil-industry executives, their lobbyists, and their friends love to blame higher gas prices on simple SUPPLY and DEMAND. They used it to explain why the price of gas just kept going up during the George Bush presidency. While Bush, McCain and Republicans have had almost all of the control in Washington, the price of gas has increased from about $1.40 per gallon to over $4. Over and over again, we heard it’s not ExxonMobil’s record profits that are contributing to record high gas prices. It’s just simple supply and demand.

So how did supply and demand cause the price to drop 11 percent in two months? The good news is that we Americans began to reduce our demand for gas, and the price dropped accordingly. We used good old American ingenuity to do common-sense, money-saving things to help us meet our family budgets. We drove less. We drove our more fuel-efficient car. We drove 5 mph slower. We changed our air filters. Yes, we even inflated our tires to their best pressure – despite being mocked by Rush Limbaugh and John McCain.

What didn’t change at all during these two months was any real off-shore drilling. No major new domestic oil fields were opened. A matter of fact, oil companies already have access to millions of acres of drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico that are thought to yield over 30 BILLION BARRELS of oil, and they aren’t doing anything with this opportunity. These already accessible reserves are estimated to be much larger that those proposed by opening up additional offshore areas for drilling. Even if oil companies choose to develop existing or new areas, it will take years before significant new domestic oil production occurs. So, DOMESTIC SUPPLY has remained the same and will remain pretty much the same for years. “Drill, Baby, Drill” hasn’t really changed anything related to the price of gas. But, I have to hand it to Republicans – it has made for good political theater. But, political grandstanding on this issue hasn’t helped the American people with the very real problem of $4 gas.

Let’s keep our eye on the ball and make a real difference in gas prices. By continuing to do common-sense things to reduce our gas consumption, WE can take control of our side of the supply-demand equation. By electing leaders that will talk straight with us, and really deal with the problem, we can drive our energy policy to finally make a difference. We need leaders like Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Mark Warner to get the job done. It’s not about slogans, it’s about real leadership – which starts with telling the truth.

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