Transportation Bill is Bad Drilling Policy

Chris Carnevale | February 21, 2012 | Clean Transportation, Climate Change, Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling


This post was co-authored by Simon Mahan and Jennifer Rennicks.

Last week’s passage of the U.S. House of Representatives’ transportation bill deserves a brief mention on the blog today if for no other reason than to help folks save a bit of money, rather than exposing them to major liabilities as the House did.  Yet again, the red herring of lower gas prices (a song sung by millions of drivers across the country and repeated by politicians as a cure-all in an election year) spurred federal action to try to open vast swaths of public land and coastlines to oil and gas drilling. Fracking, Keystone XL, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve and off Florida’s, Virginia’s, and California’s coasts were all on the table and 237 representatives shouted a hearty “yea” to all of the above.

While proponents of such risky energy development would have us believe that permitting and then taxing new oil and gas drilling is a good way to pay for vital transportation infrastructure development, experience suggests that option would only put us on the Road to Nowhere.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Photo
Photo from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which is taking tens of billions of dollars to clean up. Opening more area to offshore drilling could result in more disastrous spills like this one. Photo credit: REUTERS/Daniel Beltra.

In fact, new offshore drilling is only expected to bring in some $4.3 billion in new taxes to help cover the $260 billion transportation bill over the next decade, and new drilling certainly won’t substantially cut gasoline prices.  The reasoning for both is similar: there just isn’t that much oil off the California, Virginia and Florida coastlines.  A 2009 study conducted by the Energy Information Administration revealed that if energy companies were to exploit all the offshore areas that have previously been restricted, the price of gasoline at the pump would be expected to drop by 3 cents per gallon by 2030.  3 cents?  That’s nothing!  Is it worth risking coastal industries such as tourism and fishing and our beloved beautiful and ecologically valuable beaches and wetlands for a measly 3 cents per gallon 18 years from now?  We think not.  Now stack those taxes and savings up against the approximated tens of billions of dollars in costs for cleaning up spills like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon and you’ve got yourself a losing deal.

There are better ways to ease the pain at the pump.  Efficiency measures can easily trump the eventual savings offered by offshore drilling and don’t risk our beautiful coastline in the process.  The U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency have teamed up to provide fuel-saving, driving tips courtesy of  Savings are based on a gas price of $3.48 per gallon.This graph shows the relationship of your vehicle's speed to its miles per gallon.

•    Keep engine properly tuned – save up to $0.14/gallon
•    Keep tires properly inflated—save up to $0.10/gallon
•    Use recommended grade of motor oil—save $0.03 – $0.07/gallon
•    Accelerate slowly/increase coasting time before stops—save $0.17 – $1.15/gallon
•    Remove extra weight from the trunk—save $0.03-$0.07/gallon
•    Observe the speed limit—save $0.24-$0.80/gallon

As we have seen time and again in the fossil fuel energy arena, risky exploits may generate revenues that benefit a select few companies even as the unforeseen external costs—be it oil spills, coal ash spills, deforestation, water contamination and their host of social, environmental, and public health repercussions—are footed by the broader public.  Why risk these disasters when clean renewable alternatives such as solar, wind, and biomass are widely available?  If you want to get serious about paying less to fill up your car, forget about “drilling here, drilling now” and go get your tires pumped up.

Chris Carnevale
Chris is SACE’s Climate Advocacy Director. Chris joined the SACE staff in 2011 to help with building public understanding and engagement around clean energy solutions to the climate crisis. Chris…
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