Herring: Dragons of Misinformation

Now that the mainstream media is wild with images of red oiled marshes and dying sea turtles and foreclosed fishermen, there is one thing that we who are not outside, working to protect the coast, can stop and accomplish.

We can wade into the sea of lies and misinformation that is crashing over us, and we can kill a few dragons.

Dragon #1: We are all to blame for this spill, because we all use so much oil!
This is a hard dragon to kill, because, like the meanest of them, it is muscled and fanged with the truth. But at its heart is a lie, meant to deceive us.

We fly on planes, we eat food grown with petroleum-based fertilizers and harvested by diesel-fueled combines. We type on keyboards made from petroleum, and we drive big trucks and boats.

But you and I did not choose to drill an immensely profitable oil well in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico while ignoring the fact that an accident--for which we had no real plan--would destroy some of the worlds' richest fisheries and the economic future of thousands of our fellow citizens. We did not have sex and drug parties with the representatives of the industry that the taxpayers paid us to regulate, while ignoring the responsibility we had to protect the lands and waters of our country. We did not give away America's resources and fail to collect royalties on them at a time of soaring national deficit and while fighting two wars. We did not--and we would not, even if we could--take advantage of a national leadership that offered us permission to drill wells without any consideration of the costs to wildlife, air, water, or the future of lands and oceans.

We all share some of the blame for the oil in the Gulf. As is so often said, freedom is not free. It means taking responsibility, being more self-sufficient, finding a new and better way. When somebody threatens you by saying, "You will perish if you don't keep buying what I'm selling, and you better not complain about how I get it, or how much it costs!" The proper American answer is not "Gee, okay." It's "Oh yeah?" We are to blame for the laziness and fear we have showed so far, I guess.

Dragon #2: We need a lot more regulations for these oil and gas companies!
Not really. We have the regulations already, lots of them. But regulations mean nothing if nobody enforces them, or if every year, something is added that means the industries don't have to comply. The fact is that corruption--overt, covert, and "just a little bit, teeheehee, everybody does it"--ends up causing massive destruction. For instance, Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws in the Americas. If you are a guy hoeing his corn patch with a .45 on your hip to protect your family from kidnappers and thieves, you go to prison--passing brand-new pickups bristling with machine-gun toting sicarios on the way.

Americans have always felt that the kind of corruption that has destroyed Mexico was impossible here. But no country is immune. And we have made a grave mistake--and an unusual mistake in such a conservative nation as ours--by abandoning accountability. We say "don't play the blame game," or "we have to move on." It's a very liberal idea, and you can see its results in any junior high classroom in the nation. You can see it in the history of the Mineral Management Services, and, for just one example, in the case of Interior Department staffer and energy lobbyist Steven Griles. Without accountability, without consequences for terrible decisions and crooked cronyism, corrupt acts and crimes, how can anything ever change for the better?

Dragon #3: Environmentalists caused this disaster by not letting us drill on land or close to shore!
You hear it said: "If they'd just let us get that Colorado oil shale, our energy companies wouldn't have to be drilling in these dangerous deep waters!" The answer to that lies in a simple formula: Energy Returned on Energy Invested. So far, the technology has not conquered that formula--it takes more energy to get the oil from the shale than the oil produces. And even if the EROEI can be worked out, it's estimated that to produce 100,000 barrels of oil per day (enough to supply U.S. demand for all of seven minutes) from Colorado's Green River Formation near Grand Junction, it would require tens of thousands of acre-feet of water, and a new $3 billion coal fired power plant burning 5 million tons of coal per year.

Oil companies are some of the most sophisticated businesses in the world. They explore and develop where the oil is. I wrote in 2007 that about 88 percent of all federal lands are open to oil and gas leasing, with 63 percent available for lease without restriction. Just 12 percent of public land is unavailable for energy exploration, mostly because it is in national parks or designated wilderness areas.

Right now, if there were plenty of oil onshore, the best oil companies would be there, making money and producing black gold for us to use. Environmentalists couldn't stop them if they wanted to.