M. DAVID STIRLING
Investor's Business Daily
The dramatic escalation in the price of oil — a 40% spike just this year — has many Americans in a heightened state of anxiety.
Not only are soaring gas prices causing shock and fear at the household level, but commercial heavy fuel users such as trucking, shipping, and airlines are significantly reducing services, laying off workers, and increasing fares. For consumers, this means much higher prices for all goods and services.
With natural gas prices also climbing, utility companies are raising rates, some by as much as 29% beginning July 1. This is on top of the 30% rate increase consumers have paid over the past five years.
Yet, for all the uneasiness over super-heated oil prices, which some analysts have predicted will reach $200-a-barrel by year's end, both consumers and business leaders seem bewildered at the state of their predicament.
When they ask why oil prices are so high, the usual answer they receive — as a leading newspaper recently reported — is "higher demand, the falling dollar and lots of new investors." That's true, but not something people can do much about.
But there's another major reason that oil and gas prices are off the chart, and it's one that's not being talked about enough. And most importantly, should Americans choose to change it, we could positively impact the high price of oil.
For more than a half century, the increasingly powerful and wealthy environmentalist organizations have used laws like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to impose a harsh, uncompromising regime on the nation's economy, on families' pocketbooks, and on every resident's quality of life.
Their frequently unfounded and typically exaggerated claims of countless species of plant and wildlife becoming extinct unless human endeavors are halted or severely curtailed underlies their ultimate goal of returning major portions of the country to an imagined pristine state. The sharp run-up in oil and gas prices is their "perfect storm" for accomplishing that goal.
Consider that in the 1980s the U.S. Geological Survey estimated some 17 billion barrels of recoverable oil lie under the 1.5-million acre Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. One million barrels of oil produces 27 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel; here there are potentially 17 billion barrels.
Many urged drilling in ANWR to capture this oil and natural gas. With modern drilling technology, only about 2,000 surface acres would be required to recover the oil and natural gas under the Coastal Plain. But the environmentalist organizations began a "no drilling in ANWR" PR campaign, claiming that wildlife species such as the porcupine, caribou, arctic wolf, polar bear and others were on the brink of oblivion, and would be lost forever if drilling occurred.
Several bills to allow extraction of this oil and natural gas were presented in Congress over the past 20 years, but each was either killed or vetoed. Nor was there scientific evidence supporting the claim that any of the wildlife species were even close to the brink of extinction.
Besides ANWR, the U. S. Mineral Management Service has estimated as much as 19 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie under the Atlantic, Pacific and Florida Gulf coasts.
But since a 1981 congressional moratorium on drilling from three to 200 miles offshore and a 1990 reinforcement of the ban by the first President Bush, the environmentalist lobby has killed all efforts to reinstate such drilling. They point to old oil spills from off-shore oil drilling that killed birds and other marine wildlife.
But consider that with new off-shore drilling technology, even Hurricane Katrina's major wallop was unable to cause oil spills from any of the numerous drilling platforms operating in the Gulf of Mexico.
As a result of the environmental lobby's years of influence in the nation's capitol, two-thirds of the oil used today in the United States is imported from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, Algeria, Angola and Russia.
With natural gas traditionally imported from Venezuela, Iran and Russia currently terminated, the U.S. is relying on countries like Angola, Yemen, and Algeria for this critical commodity. This dependence puts us in an uncomfortable, if not precarious, national security position.
If increased demand for a product drives its price up, then increasing the supply will drive its price down. The vast oil and natural gas supplies within the U.S. can be tapped with little environmental harm to the land or wildlife species.
It will happen whenever the American people are ready to tell the hard-core environmental lobby and its congressional followers: "Enough is Enough!"
Stirling is vice president of Pacific Legal Foundation, a nationwide public interest legal organization working in the courts to defend private property and environmental balance. He is author of the new book, "Green Gone Wild — Elevating Nature Above Human Rights."