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The case for drilling

Robert Samuelson makes a powerful case for starting to drill for oil in parts of the U.S. where drilling is now forbidden. The current restrictions, he argues, are based on “exaggerated environmental fears, strong prejudice against oil companies and sheer stupidity.”

Samuelson shows how, in environmental terms, the alternatives to more drilling are usually worse. For example, subsidies for ethanol made from corn have increased food prices and caused scarce water resources to be used. And the importation of oil invovles the risk of tanker spills. Samuelson points out that there were 4,000 platforms operating in the Gulf of Mexico when hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit; yet no major spills occurred.

Samuelson acknowledges that production from restricted areas won’t make the U.S. self-sufficient when it comes to oil. However, “it might stabilize output or even reduce imports.” In any case, exerting long-term influence on the global balance of supply and demand is the best we can do. That means increasing our production and restraining our demand.

Congress, though, is content to complain about high oil company profits even as it “frustrates those companies’ desire to use those profits to explore and produce in the United States.” Indeed this has been congressional policy for decades, the result of a coalition of liberal Democrats and some misguided Republicans. Unfortunately, Senator McCain has been prominent among the latter group.

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