The Public Policy

In Contempt of Court

The usual drill from no-drill Democrats.

By 7.15.10

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It takes energy, not just to keep an economy going but to be as dumb as the Obama administration seems when it comes to energy policy.

Various Capitol Hill Democrats think the Senate sometime this summer is going to pass some kind of energy bill that makes them, and the President, look half-way alert concerning the means by which cars and machines do their stuff. Don't count on it: not least because, concerning energy, Democrats know no tactics other than coercion -- the brass knucks, the shillelagh, the bung starter, brandished in the face of anyone naïve enough to suppose Democrats actually want someone to find and supply oil, gas, coal, and such like.

A case in point: the revived offshore drilling moratorium. The federal courts (instruments of the same government wrestling nominally with the BP oil spill) rejected at both the district and the appeals level an Interior Department attempt to shut down drilling in water deeper than 500 feet. Both courts found the government as having overstretched its authority on very, very slender grounds.

Well, now, a little thing like a legal reverse isn't going to stop a guy like Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who says, so you don't like our moratorium, huh? Well, then, here's another one.

Back came Salazar with a new, improved moratorium, whose interim rules won't even be ready before the end of August -- following public hearings and discussions conducted by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The idea is to keep deepwater drilling shut down until Nov. 30, assuming the 33 idle deepwater rigs won't have moved by then to less persnickety overseas jurisdictions.

The American Petroleum Institute sees the moratorium as overkill, arguing that the rigs in question "have passed thorough government inspections and are ready to be put back to work.… A resumption of drilling would proceed only under the most intense and regulated oversight." Bottom line: get going.

Fifty thousand jobs in the oil industry are at stake, as well you might suppose from the production figures for deepwater wells. Of all the oil presently being extracted from the Gulf of Mexico, 80 percent comes from deepwater wells, as does 45 percent of the Gulf's natural gas production.

The New York Times, predictably, is thrilled: "[T]he administration has reaffirmed one of the basic lessons of [the oil spill] mess: that industry's claims cannot be accepted at face value."

Not so with the government's claims to wisdom. Government by definition -- the Times' definition, reflective of Washington, D.C.'s highest-level thinking -- is public-spirited. By contrast, industry is driven by self-interest, hence pretty squirrelly when it comes to Public Responsibility. Just why, apart from "self-interest," anyone would want to sink up to $100 million into the drilling of a deepwater well is a question vainly begging an answer.

"Drilling," declares the Times, with upturned nose, "cannot be resumed on faith alone." What an interesting observation, inasmuch as any Texan (let us say) could tell you "faith alone" is the foundation of the oil and gas industry.

The oil prospector, out there with his pickup, or sitting before a computer, knows the stuff is down there, waiting. He can almost smell it, taste it, blacken his hands with it. What he can't do is see it -- not until the drill bit penetrates the formation at which he aims. Sometimes he's right; more often he's wrong. Faith keeps him going back to the well.

Or it did once. The Democrats are on a campaign to outlaw faith in favor of the certainty we should get from the presence on the drilling platform of a federal employee with clipboard in hand. There's your Democratic energy policy -- the one that's going to want reversing starting the day after the November elections. 

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About the Author

William Murchison is a Dallas-based columnist for Creators Syndicate. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.