In Al Gore's America, it's okay to drill for and produce hydrocarbons from marine locations off Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, but immoral to do so anywhere else. Al Gore's America is not one that Americans should relish.
Desperate politicians say extreme things. And Gore, a two-term vice-president who should be his party's automatic pick to run for President next year, is desperate. His campaign has foundered. Even fellow Democrats have begun to utter what is obvious to anyone watching him on television: Election, for Gore, will be an uphill struggle.
Lurch for support
In a lurch for support from the environmentalist fringe, where he is comfortable but not always welcome, Gore promised to prohibit oil and gas drilling off California and Florida. At the Seacoast Science Center at Rye, NH, on Oct. 21, he declared, "I don't want to be worrying about oil washing up on the shores of Santa Barbara and Monterey."
Good grief. The Department of Energy recently documented advances in technology that put the threat of spills from offshore exploration and production in comforting perspective (OGJ, Oct. 11, 1999, p. 23). "As a result of these advances," DOE said, "operators are able to locate and produce more offshore resources with less drilling, fewer dry holes, less waste, and minimal impact." If any oil washes up on the shores of Santa Barbara or Monterey, it's much more likely to come from natural seeps or shipping mishaps than from drilling and production.
None of that will stop Gore from posturing for environmentalists, of course. At least he didn't conjure up anxiety about oil washing up on the shores of Florida, off which the hydrocarbon most likely to be found would be natural gas. For some reason, Floridians resist drilling anyway.
For politicians, this is an old game: Aggravate unwarranted fear, then courageously promise to do something about it. Most politicians, however, are better than Gore at masking the contrivance. Every statement Gore makes seems calculated and therefore insincere. Hence his electability problem.
Maybe that's why he underscored his misjudgment with personal testimony that Americans should find troubling.
"For me this issue is not only an economic issue and a health issue," he said, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle. "It's also a moral issue. I think we have an obligation to do right by the environment."
By this Gore must mean that hard-working Americans affiliated with oil and gas production in the central and western Gulf of Mexico-where he wouldn't ban drilling because it already occurs there-do not "do right by the environment." By this he also must mean that those Americans are involved, by virtue of their jobs, in immoral activity.
Oil isn't washing up on the shores of Texas and Louisiana from offshore platforms. It's not spilling into the Gulf of Mexico because the people whose morality Gore so blithely traduces care about their environment and work carefully to avoid accidents. They have the record to prove it. Desperate or not, Gore has no right to condemn them.
He is naturally willing to sacrifice ill feelings in Houston and Lafayette, where he can't expect much support under any circumstances, for the chance of political gain in California and Florida. But the tradeoff is breathtaking in its cynicism. And Californians and Floridians should see something to worry about in Gore's appeal. For that matter, so should Iowans and New Yorkers.
Today Gore aims his self-righteous disapproval at oil and gas drilling and calls for an outright ban. What might the target be tomorrow? Motion pictures? Driving vacations? Commodity trading? Nonorganic agriculture?
Gore's self-serving moralizing is unjust and contrary to national economic and energy interests. And his reflexive embrace of regionally divisive politics looks far from presidential.