Oil versus Bambi – A view on Drilling in the Alaska Arctic Refugee

A friend of mine recently sent me this clip, and asked what I thought. He highlighted several parts of the article specifically. They’re included, complete with email reply markers. My friend is pretty green, but it’s from a love of the outdoors, and an honest desire for a better world, not an ideologically driven agenda. Here’s my reply, slightly edited from email to web.

“[…]Supporters said opening the Arctic refuge for oil exploration was needed to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil. […]

Critics claimed the measure would damage one of the last great wilderness areas on the continent, while providing only six months’ supply of oil – and that would not be available for nearly 10 years. […]

Earlier Wednesday, the House voted 269-160 against raising fuel mileage standards for sport-utility vehicles to 27.5 miles per gallon, from the current fleet average of 20.7. ”

what is your stance on that?

Well, here goes: In two words, my stance on this is – Private Property.

I do not think bulldozing Caribou into a massive oil pit while dynamiting nursing baby seals is a good thing. I am not in favor of standing puddles of oil as long as I don’t have to see it. I think Industries, LA, Galveston, TX and the East side of Philly, PA look like Hell. So don’t mistake honest analysis of “green” arguments as some kind of advocation for a paved Earth.

Most of Alaska is a “park” or “preserve” of some kind. Private individuals own a tiny fraction of the state. The political hullabaloo over how to best use this “common” ground (parks or oil) is missing the real point: What business does arguably the largest polluter on the planet, the US Government, have owning most of the land in Alaska. Furthermore, why is Congress using the political processes of bribery, demagoguery, graft, and special interests, instead of the market processes of fair bidding, supply and demand, and private ownership, to figure out what to do with it?

If Big Oil companies actually owned the land, environmentalists could point a finger at the ones who screw it up, and laud the ones who keep it pristine. Kind of like “Dolphin friendly Tuna” incites fishing companies to avoid killing Flipper, enviro-friendly gas at the local BPAmoco would be in higher demand than Exxon Valdez Round II gas. As it stands, Big Oil likes Big Government doling out rights to drill on land that Big Oil doesn’t have to buy, maintain, or give a damn about since they don’t have to bother reselling it. If the Big Oil companies had to actually BUY the land and worry about reselling it, and consequently preserve the local environment, all while avoiding bad publicity from the environmentalists, we would be better off than our current “public-private” socialist system. As it stands now, Government has decided to drill. What oil company will get to produce the oil? Transport it? Refine it? Besides Dick Chaney’s Haliburton, I mean. If something goes wrong who will be blamed? BPAmoco? ExxonMobil? No. “Big Oil” in general or “the Government run Artic Oil Drilling operation.” Pretty neat PR coup if you’re a big oil company not too keen on safety.

What do we care how many months worth of oil might be produced, and how do we expect the fiscal cretins in Congress to know. Let the oil companies bid along with everyone else for the land. They take the risk; they reap the reward.

Earlier Wednesday, the House voted 269-160 against raising fuel mileage standards for sport-utility vehicles to 27.5 miles per gallon, from the current fleet average of 20.7. ”

I’m glad to know that we can safely legislate the laws of physics. Why did they stop at 27.5 MPG? We could solve all our environmental problems with the stroke of a congressional pen if they had only mandated the auto industry create a 1,000 MPG engine. Or maybe a salt-water fusion engine! Of course, this again misses the real issue. What business does Congress have passing this kind of legislation? Do they really think consumers are going to buy a car that gets 5-MPG? Some will. Most will opt for the more fuel-efficient 25-MPG version. The unintended consequences of regulation are often worse than the legislation itself. To whit: The SUV’s currently under the EPA 20.7 MPG fleet rules are non-commercial vehicles. Those wily capitalists knew the EPA rules about vehicles over 8,500 pounds gross being considered “heavy-duty”. The result is the Ford Excursion, weighing in at 8,600 pounds gross. Coincidence? It gets 12 or 13-MPG city, depending on engine, and crushes Japanese economy cars with the greatest of ease. If not for the EPA rules, Ford would have undoubtedly taken some of that expensive and heavy steel out of the Excursion. One has to wonder how many fewer might be dead if we lifted the EPA rules and Ford made the Excursion a mere, say, 6,200 pounds. Luckily, the Boston Globe has the answer: 1 MPG extra legislated fuel economy = 7,700 extra dead Americans each year. The EPA missed that in their benefit-cost analysis.

The bickering between the Green lobby and the Big Oil lobby shows the stupidity of both. They rely on the government to politically stick it to the other group, and whine when things don’t go their way. They could both have it mostly their way; instead they waste time and money waging PR/media campaigns and bribing Congressmen. Do you think Congress will change this anytime soon? “Well, I just don’t know about drilling in Alaska, you better take us on another multi-million dollar, Lear-jet junket up there to figure things out…”

So, wrapping up where we started: Private Property. My stance is that we should have a massive auction of government property until the Federal Gov’mint (and the states) owns only its Constitutionally mandated 10 square miles of DC, along with the forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings to carry out its Constitutional duties.

Then, The Nature Conservancy, or Texaco, or both can buy chunks of the Arctic Preserve. If Texaco got it, they would certainly be more likely to keep it nice and pretty in order to sell it than they are under our current system.

August 7, 2001