Amid major flooding in the Midwest
that marks a break from normal weather patterns
, President Bush comes out in favor of offshore drilling. It's easy to make Bush an environmental straw man (sometimes I find myself wondering what childhood trauma he's avenging), but Bush is really only the messenger of the oil and gas lobby.
How are oil companies responding to global warming, beyond their absurd greenwashing PR campaigns?
On Saturday, we saw the effects of their campaign to ignore global demands for protections of the polar bear. Just before the polar bear won threatened status in May, the federal government sold oil leases to ConocoPhillips Co., Shell Oil Co. and others. In what was clearly a tit-for-tat arrangement set up with the companies behind closed doors, Bush announced Saturday that the companies would get a pass on harming polar bears in Alaska's Chukchi Sea, where nearly 10 percent of all surviving Arctic polar bears live. Here's a picture:
Yesterday's call for renewed offshore drilling—banned since 1984—was even more indicative of how energy companies are adapting to the world's (belated, thanks to them) concern about climate change. They point to an even more immediate concern: price. We have to drill offshore, Bush said, or else gas prices will continue to rise. Senate majority leader Harry Reid and environmental groups argued that the drilling would have little effect on prices—which is almost certainly true given skyrocketing demand in China and India and the relatively small amount of oil in question.
When the price argument fails, the industry turns to the rhetoric of "energy independence." But, increasingly, the U.S.'s oil comes not from the Mideast but from Canada. The Alberta tar sands are undergoing a boom now. Major oil and gas companies including Shell and BP are investing billions in infrastructure there that was impractical before gas prices hit current highs. Canada doesn't have oil, so much as tar that has to be exploded out of the ground (requiring far more energy and water than standard oil extraction) and refined more intensively (producing even more particulate pollution). This is what the tar sands "development" looks like:
Alberta's Tar Sands
Oil companies are not turning to greener energy sources; they're turning to more environmentally destructive sources of fossil fuels. What's more, their investments in the tar sands demonstrate that they're betting prices will remain high, American consumers and polar bears be damned.
Update: Spotted on Climate Progress: The U.S. Energy Information Administration—part of Bush's own administration—concluded in its 2007 Energy Outlook Analyses that refining all oil and oil shale in and offshore the lower 48 states would have just a miniscule effect on prices at the pump.