Part I - Partisan Politics and the Oil Spill

History is fast becoming the harshest critic of the morphing of the American political system. America got a wake up call from OPEC on energy policy in 1973. Voters allowed elected officials to hit the snooze button and embark on a thirty-seven year odyssey of dual-party leadership ineptitude instead of getting up and smelling the coffee.
The grotesque Internet images of crude oil spewing up from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico serve as a living monument to the snooze button. Dead wildlife washing up on the beaches and crippled fishing industries provide additional compelling evidence of what voters have allowed partisan Democrats and Republicans to do. Simply put, when afforded the opportunity to raise a few million dollars in campaign contributions and make a few good appearances on television, there is no end to the snoozing that can take the place of critical long range national planning.

The need to plan for America’s long range energy needs was actually developing long before 1973. The problem began as American oil fields began to mature. Having picked off all the low hanging fruit, vertically-integrated international oil companies figured out pretty early in the game that it would be much “cheaper” to simply import supplies from oil gushers in the Middle East than to keep looking farther and wider on U.S. soil for the same seemingly generic raw material. Importing, refining, and marking up this basic commodity at a reasonable profit, while quenching the American consumer’s thirst, made good business sense. Connecting the “cost dots” was not as easy forty-five years ago. However, after a several nasty military clashes in Palestine, clashes the Islamic oil producing and fervently anti-Israel nations lost, the circumstances surrounding U.S. energy supplies changed, literally overnight.

Once OPEC figured out America was hooked on the black stuff, a cleverly crafted embargo in 1973 enabled its members to bring the U.S. economy to its knees. Hundreds of billions of extra U.S. cash was funneled in the direction of petro-rich countries in the Middle East. It would be the first of many energy crunches.

At almost the same time as the first energy crunch was engineered, the environmental movement was gathering momentum. And before the end of the 1970’s, environmentalists were trumpeting the idea that use of all fossil fuels was inherently evil. While the armies of environmental lawyers haven’t ended the use of fossil fuels, they have done a marvelous job of making domestic exploration and production of fossil fuels more expensive than ever.

Eventually domestic drilling for crude oil was literally driven out of sight, meaning it was driven offshore. And in most places all shallow water drilling was also banned. Most new domestic exploration (for energy that everyone uses regardless of what their expressed political views are) was eventually driven into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And the rest as they say… history.

While America was beginning a long tortuous process of denial back in 1973, other countries took note of the implications for the safety of oil supplies and took action. Instead of milking various competing energy sources for campaign contributions, long range planning ensued in most jurisdictions around the globe. Even in perpetually poorly led France, the leadership realized it had a dangerous dependency and vulnerability to imported oil for its electricity generation. Accordingly the French wisely embarked on a nationwide conversion to nuclear energy. Their conversion began almost immediately. And by 1988, the French were generating nearly 80% of their electrical power from about sixty-five brand new nuclear plants.

Tomorrow we will examine all the things Republican and Democratic party partisans did to make our problems worse.


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