WASHINGTON — Rising in the Senate on May 13, Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat, explained: "I rise to discuss rising energy prices." The president was heading to Saudi Arabia to seek an increase in its oil production, and Schumer's gorge was rising.
Saudi Arabia, he said, "holds the key to reducing gasoline prices at home in the short term." Therefore arms sales to that kingdom should be blocked unless it "increases its oil production by 1 million barrels per day," which would cause the price of gasoline to fall "50 cents a gallon almost immediately."
Can a senator, with so many things on his mind, know so precisely how the price of gasoline would respond to that increase in the oil supply? Schumer does know that if you increase the supply of something, the price of it probably will fall. That is why he and 96 other senators recently voted to increase the supply of oil on the market by stopping the flow of oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which protects against major physical interruptions. Seventy-one of the 97 senators who voted to stop filling the SPR also oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
One million barrels is what might today be flowing from ANWR if in 1995 President Clinton had not vetoed legislation to permit drilling there. One million barrels produce 27 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel. Seventy-two of today's senators — including Schumer, of course, and 38 other Democrats, including Barack Obama, and 33 Republicans, including John McCain — have voted to keep ANWR's estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil off the market.
So Schumer, according to Schumer, is complicit in taking $10 away from every American who buys 20 gallons of gasoline. "Democracy," said H.L. Mencken, "is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard." The common people of New York want Schumer to be their senator, so they should pipe down about gasoline prices, which are a predictable consequence of their political choice.
Also disqualified from complaining are all voters who sent to Washington senators and representatives who have voted to keep ANWR's oil in the ground, and who voted to put 85 percent of America's offshore territory off-limits to drilling. The U.S. Minerals Management Service says that restricted area contains perhaps 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — 10 times the oil and 20 times the natural gas Americans use in a year.
Drilling is under way 60 miles off Florida. The drilling is being done by China, in cooperation with Cuba, which is drilling closer to south Florida than U.S. companies are.
ANWR is larger than the combined areas of five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware), and drilling along its coastal plain would be confined to a space one-sixth the size of Washington's Dulles Airport. Offshore? Hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed or damaged hundreds of drilling rigs without causing a large spill. There has not been a significant spill from an offshore U.S. well since 1969. Of the more than 7 billion barrels of oil pumped offshore in the past 25 years, 0.001 percent — that is one-thousandth of 1 percent — has been spilled. Louisiana has more than 3,200 rigs offshore — and a thriving commercial fishing industry.
In his "Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of 'Energy Independence,"' Robert Bryce says Brazil's energy success has little to do with its much-discussed ethanol production and much to do with its increased oil production, the vast majority of which comes from off Brazil's shore. Investor's Business Daily reports that Brazil, "which recently made a major oil discovery almost in sight of Rio's beaches," has leased most of the world's deep-sea drilling rigs.
In September 2006, two U.S. companies announced that their "Jack No. 2" well, in the Gulf 270 miles southwest of New Orleans, had tapped a field with perhaps 15 billion barrels of oil, which would increase America's proven reserves by 50 percent. Just probing four miles below the Gulf's floor costs $100 million. Congress' response to such expenditures is to propose increasing the oil companies' tax burdens.
America says to foreign producers: We prefer not to pump our oil, so please pump more of yours, thereby lowering its value, for our benefit. Let it not be said that America has no energy policy.
George Will's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.