Last Wednesday (Feb. 4th), recently appointed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar rolled back leases on 77 parcels of government-owned land issued to oil and gas companies by the Bush administration. The parcels of land are located in Utah's redrock country. Salazar said that "we will take time and a fresh look at these 77 parcels to see if they are appropriate for oil and gas development." What this comment means exactly I am not sure, although it seems clear that this "fresh look" will likely find that some or all of these lands are, in fact, NOT appropriate for drilling. From the AP article:
"Salazar said some of the 77 lease parcels are too close to Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dinosaur National Monument, all in Utah. Other leases taken off the table were on the high cliffs of whitewater sections of the Green River through Desolation Canyon.
Salazar also acted to protect plateaus populated by big game atop Nine Mile Canyon, sometimes called the world's longest art gallery because of its collection of ancient rock-art panels."
Considering the quote above, it seems like the main reason Salazar is halting these potential drilling operations is that they would disrupt the natural aesthetic, biological harmony, and anthropological value that currently exists in this beautiful area of Utah. To me, protecting pristine wilderness areas from this sort of disruption is a nice thing to do, but I am not surprised that there are many people on the other side of the argument who think that drilling in these and similarly beautiful wilderness areas is a good idea. The merits of drilling operations in, for example, the Alaskan wilderness have been debated to exhaustion, and a certain vice presidential candidate got Dangerously Close to the White House, partially because she supported drilling in Alaska as a solution to the "energy security" issue as well as a way to mitigate the economic woes from high gasoline prices.
Of course there are numerous flaws to the argument that initiating drilling operations for domestic sources of oil and natural gas will reduce the price of gasoline, but what of the "energy security/independence" issue? And what of the more simplistic economic argument that our vast expenditures on oil would be better kept in our own economy than sent across borders or overseas? As for energy independence, it's a complicated issue. Whether it's something that is remotely attainable or even a good thing is up to debate, as this article argues. Instead of getting too far into the sociopolitical implications of imported oil, or the relative merits of domestic renewable energy alternatives, I'd like instead to initiate a more philosophical discussion about domestic drilling.
One reason that drilling for oil might not be a great idea is that using more domestic oil will not hurt the evil oil-exporting governments that the "energy security" hawks would like to hurt. I believe that if we don't buy their oil, someone else will because it's just too useful not to buy. Also, domestic drilling is a band-aid at best--it's not a permanent solution to the broader energy issue because our oil supplies are finite. They will eventually run out in a matter of time, and this time scale is on the order of decades, not centuries.
BUT on the other side of the argument, oil is really valuable, and we have significant amounts of it here in the US of A, and shouldn't we use that oil and get the benefits from it since we are going to buy so much oil from other people anyway?
At this point I want to introduce an analogy for thinking about our domestic oil reserves:
It's like we have a bunch of coupons buried underground that can only be redeemed for cigarettes. Now, we already spend a lot of money on cigarettes. We pay out big money to the cigarette companies every day, but really most of us would like to quit. Cigarettes hurt our bodies, they cost a lot, and they are extremely addictive. The question is, should we rip up some beautiful landscape so that we can save a few bucks on cigarettes and inflict an extremely small wound on the cigarette companies' bank rolls? I think in this analogy, we obviously shouldn't. What we should obviously do is quit smoking. I think we should hold onto the gift certificates, and then maybe we can redeem them later when we have (a) a way to extract them without hurting the environment, and (b) a way to get the enjoyment out of smoking them without hurting our bodies. In the mean time let's try to quit, and just realize that we can't keep smoking forever, and these free cigarette coupons really aren't going to address that at all.