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Can We Dig It? Should We Dig It?

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The fight is on. No, not the primary election. I mean, yeah, that's on too, finally. But I'm referring to a different battle, the battle for the world's energy future. And it's going to get dirty.

In fact, it already has. You might have noticed the new ads from big oil and big coal. Even the ever-so-ecologically proper PBS is running ads for the National Mining Association, "NMA." Commercial networks are suddenly full of gauzy ads produced by and for big oil companies touting their love for the natural world -- which they then ask us to allow them to "explore" for more oil. They promise to extract these new deposit in the most harmless and attractive ways, if we only allow to do so.
The goal of big oil is to get at those pockets of oil, such as offshore Florida and offshore California and, of course, the Alaska wildlife refuge. They have always wanted at those deposits, but now that the price of oil has skyrocketed they are foaming at the wallet to get drilling in now restricted places.

Finally there's the once moribund nuclear power industry. Since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl companies that designed and built nuclear power plants have been in near cryogenic suspension. Global warming has thawed those firms out and they are scrambling to get laws passed that would allow them to quickly get approval for new power plants.

So what's a power consuming citizen to think amidst these powerful and well-financed PR barrages designed to influence legislation? Certainly we need sources of energy. The oil companies say there's more to be had, if for no other purpose to ease the the period of transition off oil. The coal companies claim we have something like 300-years of the black rock right here at home, if only we allowed to dig it out and sell it to power producers to burn.

Finally the nuclear power industry claims they learned their lessons about safety and have used the years since Chernobyl to design new, safer and even cleaner nuclear plants.

I'm open to all three discussions -- skeptical, but open. The only problem with these discussions is that the three special interest groups pushing their agendas are engaging us in an incomplete conversation. Before anyone takes their claims seriously each needs to address the issues very they assiduously  avoid in their lobbying and their TV and glossy magazine ads.

Here's my rules. Before I even consider continuing these conversations with these energy titans, they need to answer some questions.

Let's start with the oil and gas folks. You know, the ones who got us into this mess to begin with.

Questions for Oil Companies:

You want to drill for MORE oil? Okay. First answer a few questions left unanswered in your ads:

 Explain just how bringing more oil online gets us off the stuff.

What's your point? Are you arguing that there's really no need to get off oil? Because if that's your argument I have some peak oil statistics to show you. Only a fool would argue that oil is not a finite resource.

In fact your own accountants knew that fifty years ago when you convinced Congress to grant the oil industry the mother of all tax breaks.  YOU called it the "oil depletion allowance." The premise behind this tax break was, you argued that any investment your companies made in oil exploration and recovery became a wasting asset almost immediately since you were "depleting" the oil under your drilling platforms with each barrel pumped. In effect, you argued, by pumping oil out of the ground you were in effect pumping your way to -- what? -- financial ruin, bankruptcy? Whatever you said, it worked. You got your depletion allowance.

That little gem of a tax break saved you guys hundreds of millions, maybe billions, of dollars in taxes over the ensuing decades.

So, was the premise on which you lobbied for that tax break a lie? Is there, even after decades of pumping still "plenty of untapped oil" underground? Are you saying that, in fact, you have not depleted the world's oil supply and that there's still plenty of the stuff waiting to be had? If so, we taxpayers would like you to return all those "depletion allowances." (Circle one)

Yes / No / Don't Ask-Don't Tell

But back to the original question -- how would finding and producing more oil get America off the stuff? Past experience teaches that, even after a oil supply crisis, consumers will go right back to their wasteful ways once the crisis passes. That's precisely what happened in the 1970s when America was rocked by an Arab oil embargo. Detroit nearly went bully up since all they made then were big gas guzzling cars and trucks. The Japanese saw it coming and had small, gas thrifty small cars ready to go. And we bought those Japanese cars, until that crisis passed, heralding in the age of the SUV.

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a Pulitzer.

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