The Truth About Gas Prices: More U.S. Drilling Won't Help

One of the most persistent and effective threats to public fish and wildlife habitat is the energy lobby. They push for access to public lands--even wilderness and roadless areas--and then they push to demolish regulations that would make them be sensitive to fish and wildlife values on that public property.

And their most persuasive argument--visible everywhere during the current election season--is this: We need to drill more to lower the price at the pump.

In fact, the most effective tool America (and its politicians) have in reducing fuel costs is regulations that stress conservation.

That's not me talking. That's the word from energy economists--and always has been.

As the Associated Press explained in this excellent report, the U.S. could yield to the wildest demands from the "Drill Baby Drill" crowd--opening everything from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to every acre of public land, plus shipping dirty tar sands from Canada--and still not make a noticeable dent on the price of gas at your local filling station.

That's because oil is a world market. And U.S. reserves are insignificant compared to other areas. We simply have little control over what we pay--which is why conservation is always a more efficient way to reduce our fuel costs.

"There are not many markets where the United States can't impose its will on market outcomes," Christopher Knittel a professor of energy economics at MIT told the AP. "This is one we can't, and it's hard for the average American to understand that, and it's easy for politicians to feed off that."

Unlike natural gas or electricity, the United States alone does not have the power to change the supply-and-demand equation in the world oil market, Knittel told the AP. American oil production is about 11 percent of the world's output, so even if the U.S. were to increase its oil production by 50 percent -- more than drilling in the Arctic, increased public-lands and offshore drilling, and the Canadian pipeline would provide--it would at most cut gas prices by 10 percent.

Unfortunately, most Americans never seem to get that message--but hear all too often from the energy industry that rolling over fish and wildlife protections is in the nation's best interest. Since 1998 they have spent $3.8 billion helping to spread that message in Congress--$390 million last year alone, and $195 million so far this year (those figures are available at www.opensecrets.org).

These are important facts for sportsmen to know--and have ready to quote the next time someone argues the nation needs to drill more to lower gas prices.

It won't help their wallets, but it will do serious damage to the future of public hunting, fishing and the outdoors recreation--which adds 9.4 million jobs and $1.06 trillion in total economic activity to the nation's economy each year.

And that's one market we can control, or destroy.