Somali pirates recently seized the Sirius Star, a supertanker headed for North America with 2 million barrels of oil.
In the process, the pirates unwittingly strengthened the case for more domestic oil production in this country.
Shipping oil across vast oceans is a dangerous business. Tankers run aground and spill their cargo.
A catastrophe easily can ensue when a tanker falls into the hands of pirates not known for concern over the environment or human life.
Once successful at holding crews for ransom, pirates are likely to be emboldened further.
Offshore drilling is much safer than shipping oil by tanker, but it can produce spills.
A blowout off Santa Barbara, Calif., in 1969 fouled beaches for miles, caused widespread damage to marine life and helped promote a ban on most offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific.
But oil continues to enter the ocean by natural means. The amount that has seeped naturally into the oceans since 1970 is 31 times greater than the amount spilled in the 1969 accident.
Oil seeps at Coal Oil Point near the University of California at Santa Barbara puts an average of 4,200 gallons — 1,000 barrels — into the Pacific Ocean every day.
Bruce Luyendyk of UC Santa Barbara says offshore oil production can reduce natural seepage by lowering reservoir pressure.
Drilling within 200 miles of the U.S. coastline has a safety record of 99.999 percent since 1975, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says. Spills and accidents are much less likely than they were in 1969 but the benefits of resumed drilling are greater.
Drilling would reduce dependency on foreign sources, eliminate the risks of shipping oil thousands of miles across the oceans, and eliminate the threat of piracy. Drilling also provides a benefit to states that permit it: money.
Bruce Allen of the environmental group Stop Oil Seeps (SOS) says expanded production through offshore drilling would generate $1.6 billion a year for California through royalties.
That revenue would help resolve a state deficit of more than $11 billion, which could balloon to $28 billion by June 2010.
Offshore crude oil, on the other hand, suffers no deficit. America has estimated offshore reserves of 18 billion barrels, of which 10 billion are off the California coast, according to federal Minerals Management Service. There is plenty more oil inland, where extraction is even safer and immune to piracy.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, 31 billion barrels of oil and 231 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are available under public lands presently closed to energy production.
Falling gasoline prices, now below $2 a gallon in Connecticut, have taken the issue off the table for policy makers. (Notice that nobody calls for government investigation of the oil industry when gasoline prices go down.)
The odds are, however, prices will head back up.
A prudent energy policy based in reality instead of wishful thinking would address the next crisis before it happens. Despite the rhetoric surrounding renewable sources, the United States will need petroleum for years to come.
As Bruce Allen said: “You only find energy solutions when you look for them.” One solution to foreign dependency lies on our own land and off our own shores. You only get that oil when you drill for it, and we should, sooner rather than later.
As for the pirates now seeking to grab oil tankers, they, too, should be drilled — with missiles and machine guns.
The United States, in concert with other nations, should blow these bandits out of the water.
K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute.