A couple of weeks ago I expressed my willingness to let President Obama use offshore drilling as a bargaining tool in the larger battle to pass comprehensive energy policy reform. I thought (and still think) that President Obama is smarter than most of us and had his eye on the larger prize of passing a good energy bill by the obstructionist GOP.
I was wrong — dead wrong ... 5,000 barrels-of-oil-a-day wrong.
Right now there is a river of oil spewing from a well more than a mile under the sea. You could fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool every three days with how much is gushing out. It could take months to stop. In the end we could be looking at tens of millions of gallons of oil washing up on our shores.
They'll get some of it back. The Coast Guard has already started doing controlled burns. But they won't get most of it. Millions of gallons of oil will wash up on shore and corrupt miles of coastline and wetlands. It will kill birds and choke fish. It will befoul the air and ruin the beaches.
And it will keep doing it well into the summer. For every patch of oil found on the shore today, there are countless more patches to follow in the weeks ahead.
Contrast the nightmare of that situation with the recent permit approval for Cape Wind in Massachusetts. Developers have been fighting to put up wind turbines far off the shores of Cape Cod but have been fought and stymied by activists worried about having to see the turbines when they look out their backyard. This week the government put those plans one step closer to reality with the approval of a permit for a 130-turbine farm in Horseshoe Shoal in the Nantucket Sound.
Hold a quarter up at arms length between your thumb and pointer finger. The Cape Wind installation will be smaller than that quarter appears.
The Cape Wind farm will never burst and send a river of noxious poison to smother Cape Cod. The turbines won't explode, killing dozens of workers. Instead they will just sit there quietly, spinning every day and sending clean and reliable energy to shore, enough to power 400,000 homes. They can never be blocked by unrest overseas, and people drawing their power from the farm won't ever see their energy bills skyrocket because of a jump in price.
Maybe we don't need offshore drilling to make it easier to pass comprehensive energy policy reform; maybe we need it to serve as a wakeup call. Let's put an oil rig off the coast of Cape Cod and see how fast the anti-Cape Winders change their tune. Let's put a rig right off the shore of Washington, D.C., and Kennebunkport, Maine, and anywhere else rich people in power like to swim. How about a nice big rig right off Miami Beach?
Then we'll just sit back, wait for nature to take its course, and in a oil spill or three we'll be well on our way to legislating a real transition away from oil.
Either that or all the rich and powerful people will just move to the mountains and private indoor beaches in Dubai.
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