Friday, June 27, 2008

Will Offshore Oil Be Exported?

Here's a question for all those who favor drilling for new oil in Alaska and off the coasts of the U.S.: if we take the environmental risks, allow industrialization of our ocean coasts and pristine areas of Alaska, will we end up seeing that oil exported? 

Here's why I ask: I've been researching the topic of gasoline and diesel prices, and I was surprised to find  that U.S. oil companies are currently exporting both gasoline and diesel fuel out of the U.S. In the case of gasoline, 5,691,000 gallons were exported in March, 2008, the latest month for which statistics are available; for distillate fuels, which include diesel, 11,110,000 gallons in March.

Ron Planting, an economist at the American Petroleum Institute pooh-poohs the impact of these exports, noting that for gasoline they amount to only 2% of the U.S. market. 

But gasoline use in the U.S. has been flat for the three years ending in 2007, and is declining this year. That trend should continue for the next 5 to 10 years, the time it would take for the new drilling to produce oil. Not only are Americans shunning gas guzzlers for more efficient vehicles, but biofuels are increasingly displacing petroleum. In fact, petroleum imports are already falling. 

Planting says Americans shouldn't mind even if the newly drilled oil is exported because it will simply be adding to world supply and help keep the price of crude from going higher. 

But I do mind. If the U.S. Congress is foolish enough to take the environmental risks of drilling offshore and in Alaska (remember the Exxon Valdez? The Supreme Court has just drastically lowered the punitive damage award against the company for the biggest spill in history--caused by human error.) they'd better include the requirement that the oil from those wells can not be exported. . Otherwise, the argument that the drilling would improve our energy security is entirely specious.

Furthermore,  we need to reduce global consumption of oil and other fossil fuels if we are to arrest  climate change. Keeping supplies tight will spur conservation and a shift to a new era of alternative fuels. 

Which means that my grandchildren, should I be so lucky to have them some day, will be able to sail to the horizon without drilling platforms in their way.

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