Gas Prices Are High, But Drill Baby Drill Policies Will Not Bring Down Costs

This article originally appeared on Demos' Policy Shop

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Sometimes I wonder if we should require our politicians to prove they are capable of doing basic math before they can engage in policymaking.

Yes, gas prices are high, although not as high as they were in the summer of 2008, but most of the solutions being offered will have zero impact on bringing the prices down. The “drill baby drill” mantra is catchy, but further expanding our drilling capacity is not going to help. Here’s where the math skills come in handy: the U.S. consumes 20 percent of the world’s oil supply but owns only 2 percent of its reserves. So, we could drill every last drop out of our reserves, destroying fragile ecosystems in the process, and still fall very short of meeting our oil demands.

In fact, the easiest way to reduce our dependence on oil imports is to reduce the amount of oil we consume. The new fuel efficiency standards that U.S. automakers are now implementing will reduce oil consumption by 2.2. million barrels a day — more than drilling in the Gulf currently produces. Plus, producing more oil here doesn’t mean that it will stay here. If other oil-hungry countries like China or India are willing to pay more than we are, that’s where the oil goes. There is no requirement that oil produced domestically must stay domestically.

This fact is true for all energy produced, including tar sands and natural gas. As we pointed out before, just because the Keystone XL pipeline is built, there is no guarantee that the final product will stay stateside. As for natural gas, we should not strive to be the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas,” as President Obama has claimed. For one, it is not at all clear how much natural gas we have and the projected amount of natural gas in shale rock was just slashed in half. Not to mention that getting the natural gas out of shale rock, otherwise known as fracking, has a slew of negative health and environmental impacts, including contaminating drinking water supplies, causing earthquakes, and making tap water flammable.

The way to decrease gas prices is not going to change: stop oil speculations, stop trying to go to war with Iran, and start ramping up investments in renewable energy. It’s not a catchphrase, but it’s the only thing that’s going to work.

Photo Credit: LouieBaur