Fix New Orleans, Then Drill for Oil

The United States should treat the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina much like a foreign enemy who has invaded our shores. It poses threats that must be defeated and—where human efforts consistent with a constitutionally limited government can avail—never repeated.

The immediate steps are obvious and already the objects of a national consensus. Those trapped or injured in New Orleans and other devastated areas need to be evacuated and cared for. Basic infrastructure needs to be repaired, rebuilt or replaced.

In our history, when great cities have been hit by great disasters, they have come back as stronger and more prosperous communities, and even as more beautiful places to live. New Orleans will, too.

But when the immediate crisis is over, national leaders need to conscientiously respond to an obvious question: Must we rely so heavily on one region of the country for our domestic oil supplies?

Utopian Ideas

As even Americans who live more than a thousand miles from New Orleans learned this week when they visited local gas stations and paid more than $3.00 a gallon for gas, a meteorological event that strikes just a few hundred miles of the Gulf Coast can cause a dramatic spike in the cost of gasoline nationwide. That is because more than 25% of our domestic petroleum production comes from the Gulf, and almost half of our oil-refining capacity is concentrated there. Katrina knocked 91% of the region’s oil production off line and shut down 13% of the entire nation’s refining capacity.

Despite this overdependence on Gulf Coast oil, Congress has thus far failed to open other regions of the country to new oil drilling, most notably the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the coast of California. In a world where India and China are using more petroleum every year, where the politically fragile Persian Gulf remains the primary source of foreign oil for the United States, and where foreign terrorists are presumably studying how they can most efficiently cause the greatest damage to the U.S. economy, we cannot afford the luxury of leaving potential domestic non-Gulf Coast oil fields untapped.

When Congress returns this week, serious debate should begin about a real energy policy for the United States. It should not focus on utopian environmentalist ideas for converting America to solar energy, wind energy, corn power or some other liberal-approved “alternative” energy source by 2020, or 2030, or some other far off date that will mean nothing to American families that must gas up their cars this fall just to get to work or get the kids to school. It should focus on the fastest ways to increase and geographically diversify the domestic supply of oil by liberating private U.S. industry to go out and find, drill, refine and deliver gas to the pump.

Any politician who disputes the need for doing this should hold a town hall meeting at a local gas station.