The oil spill has left the central Gulf of Mexico awash in goo and the nervously watching American public buried in a blizzard of numbers: 20,000 barrels per day gushing into Gulf waters; 20,000 workers striving around the clock to plug the spill; nearly 1,400 vessels mobilized for the effort; millions of feet of boom to corral the oil; a million or so gallons of dispersant to break it up. And much more of everything in prospect as the effort continues to plug the runaway well and stop the mess from widening.
We’ll offer one number that hasn’t received the attention it deserves: 20 million. That’s roughly the number of barrels of oil consumed each day by this country’s cars, trucks, heavy equipment — everything.
It’s a big number. To put things in perspective, if the BP spill is flowing at 20,000 barrels per day, that makes for an environmental catastrophe, but it amounts to a statistical rounding error when compared with daily U.S. oil consumption. It’s roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of what we use daily.
We bring this up to call attention to the obvious: If this country is serious about reducing our oil dependency and, by inference, the amount of drilling at great depths offshore, we’ll have to make some major inroads on the demand side. Short of that, shutting down drilling and production for any length of time in the Gulf of Mexico is a nonstarter. Gulf production provides us with 30 percent of the oil we produce domestically. Take it away without cutting consumption and you get only one thing: increased dependency on foreign oil, much of it controlled by countries that don’t like us.
The Gulf spill has turned into a vexation for the Obama administration, framed curtly by the president’s frustration-filled plea to White House aides to “plug the damn hole.”
We share Obama’s pain. But that plug may not come for a while yet. Let’s make the best use of the interim, Mr. President: Put it to use marshaling public opinion in the cause of cutting the nation’s demand.
Here’s another number that might help: 700 billion barrels of oil equivalent. That’s a rough estimate of how much natural gas this country has, mostly trapped in shale formations from Texas to Colorado and in the West Virginia-Pennsylvania-New York region. It’s accessible without drilling through deep waters and the product is twice as clean as coal.
Maybe now is the time, Mr. President, to have a look at the energy independence plan put forward by the wildcatter T. Boone Pickens — especially his proposal to convert our nation’s fleet of 8 million 18-wheeler trucks from imported diesel to domestically produced natural gas.
That would take time, and it wouldn’t be cheap. A new infrastructure would have to be put in place. But it would make better use of a fuel that this country has in abundance, and which is more accessible than deepwater oil.
Focusing on future options (including nuclear power) beats the alternative of simply wringing your hands and wagging fingers at the oil companies, Mr. President. There’ll be time enough for blaming after the Deepwater Horizon well is plugged and the Gulf’s cleanup is under way.
Now is the time to point the way forward with cleaner alternatives that help build that bridge to a sustainable energy future we all want.
We believe the American people are primed for a mission that makes us more secure and creates good jobs while cleaning up the environment. It’s your moment to lead, Mr. President. Take full advantage of it.