It is not easy to talk about the importance of a strong domestic oil industry in the wake of the tragic incident in the Gulf of Mexico. We do not yet have all the information about what caused the explosion, but we do know that it could have and should have been prevented.
In the months ahead, our first order of business must be to conduct a thorough investigation of the incident. We must find out exactly what happened and redouble efforts to fix it and ensure that this does not happen again.
Last month’s rig explosion occurred just as President Obama had announced plans to open more of the country to offshore drilling—a critical move designed to reduce our nation’s over-reliance on foreign oil. Now we must make the case for a strong domestic energy industry to a much more skeptical public. It is important that we address this challenge head on. In the same way that accidents like the one that occurred last month in the Gulf are not acceptable, our country’s current energy situation—in which we import well over half the oil we consume—is simply untenable.
Consumer Energy Alliance, a broad alliance of both traditional and renewable sources of power, understands this better than most. We support a diverse energy sector in which our power is derived from oil and gas, solar and wind. We applauded last week when the Obama Administration approved the long-contested Cape Wind project, paving the way for the nation’s first large-scale offshore wind farm. We encourage consumers to do their part to conserve power, buy energy efficient appliances and re-insulate their homes. And yet we also know the numbers well enough to understand that even under the best case scenario, in which wind and solar and all the other renewable power sources meet their most optimistic growth projections, fossil fuels will be essential to everyday life for decades to come. Oil and gas are the backbone of our economy. They are the fuels that make every day commuting and long distance travel, business and commerce, manufacturing and education possible. Without oil and gas, the entire U.S. economy would come to a grinding halt.
For too long the United States has passively accepted that truth, but not really confronted it. We have simply looked the other way as we imported more and more of our oil. Today, we import much of our oil from unstable governments in far away places. This entails huge financial costs and a not insignificant global environmental footprint in transporting the oil. It has also left us at the whim of governments that do not always have the United States’ best interest in mind. The history of our dependence on foreign oil is a history of unpredictable supply and volatile prices, which has from time to time crippled fuel-intensive industries and average consumers alike. It is a history of political conflict. Our thirst for foreign oil has compromised both our economic and our national security. It cannot continue.
The difficult takeaway from last month’s accident in the Gulf, then, is that both oil rig safety and the national security that comes from a strong domestic oil sector are non-negotiable. We must commit to the highest standards of safety in oil production, complete with enforcement and accountability. And, in the interest of our economic and national security, we must commit to producing more of our vast reserves of domestic oil. We cannot just export another vital American industry because it faces challenge. And we cannot afford to let gasoline prices top $4.50 a gallon because foreign suppliers are calling the shots. In the coming weeks, as the debate over our domestic oil production reaches a fever pitch, it will be easy to take an anti-oil position and call for more limited production in the U.S. But we must commit to the harder work of building a reliable—and above all, safe—domestic industry.
To be clear, we cannot accept even the rare accident as an inevitable byproduct of oil production. This debate must not be cast in terms of safety versus steady supply. We must have both, and with hard work, we can.
David Holt is president of the non-profit organization, Consumer Energy Alliance.