'Drill, baby, drill' is a shrill, mistaken strategy

To borrow a phrase from Ronald Reagan, "There you go again." For the umpteenth time in the last 40 years, with every new crisis in — fill in the blank — the Mideast, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Nigeria, Venezuela or the Gulf of Mexico and a concomitant rise in the price of gasoline, we hear the shrill call to action of "Drill, baby, drill." We have been talking about having a national energy strategy for 50 years. But each crisis has represented a missed opportunity — and left our economic well-being more and more vulnerable.

How long will we continue to act like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football while hoping things will be different this time? How many more muggings will we endure at the hands of unfriendly countries before we have had enough? Last month alone we sent more than $30 billion overseas to pay for oil — think of what that money could do for our economy.

It is time finally to face the fact that we cannot drill ourselves to energy independence and isolate ourselves from the worldwide demand for oil.

America consumes 20.8 percent of the oil produced in the world each year and 20.9 percent of the natural gas production. But we only have about 1.6 percent of the proven oil reserves and only about 3.8 percent of the proven gas reserves. We could tap all our reserves and we would still be importing oil. And, at our current rate of consumption and importation, our reserves are estimated to last less than six years.

America currently ranks No. 1 in natural gas production and No. 3 in oil production. Since 1950, we have drilled 2.6 million oil and natural gas wells, and at the beginning of 2010, we had 824,847 producing wells.

We are drilling ... 40,000 wells were drilled last year alone. As of the first week in February, there were 1,739 rotary drilling rigs operating in the United States, more than in any other country in the world.

Millions of acres of federal lands are already under lease — with no exploratory or production activity underway on a majority of those lands. Moreover, despite the claims that the government is thwarting oil and gas development, thousands of federal drilling permits held by oil and gas companies go unused.

At the same time we are importing oil, we are exporting about 1.6 million barrels a week of U.S. refined petroleum products.

Increasing our domestic production, limited as it will be, does not guarantee lower prices at home. Oil is an international commodity, it goes where it can command the best price, and we pay the world price, whether it comes from Texas or Libya. Increased production in the U.S. may simply flow into the world market rather than increasing the supply available to us.

To secure our energy future, we need a comprehensive and aggressive energy policy that, among other things:

Recognizes that we do not need oil to generate electricity, but do depend on it for transportation. In the short run we will need oil to meet those needs, but must reduce that dependency by transitioning to natural gas, and ultimately to electricity for our major transport needs.

Uses tax and financial incentives as well as performance standards to promote energy efficiency.

Places limits or taxes on greenhouse gas emissions that will stimulate investment in technology, efficiency and renewable energy.

Libya produces about 2 percent of the world's oil, albeit a larger percentage of the desirable sweet crude. But if continued production from another more major producer such as Saudi Arabia becomes uncertain, we will, in the words of President George H.W. Bush, be in "deep doo-doo." That is not the energy future Americans want or deserve.

Please, Congress, give us an energy plan!

Barnes is a professor of public and environmental affairs and professor of law at Indiana University.