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New oil leases in the Arctic: How dumb is that?

November 9, 2011 |  8:01 am

An Obama administration proposal would open new areas in the Arctic to oil and gas exploration
Wish gasoline prices would come down? 

Want to kill some polar bears?

Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for -- and it's not gasoline prices I'm talking about.

No, gas prices aren't coming down. As The Times reported Tuesday:

If you think gasoline is expensive now, just wait until next year: A combination of growing global demand and rising U.S. fuel exports could send gasoline prices to record highs in 2012, analysts say. ...

[T]he U.S. average gasoline price is $3.424 a gallon, the Energy Department said Monday, based on a weekly survey of service stations. Although that represented a decline of 2.8 cents from the previous Monday, the average was still nearly 56 cents higher than at this time last year and shattered the old record for this week of $3.013 a gallon, set in 2007.

In California, a gallon of regular gasoline is averaging $3.855, up 0.9 cent from a week earlier. That is substantially higher than the old record for this week of the year of $3.231 a gallon, set in 2007.

Ouch. And to think, in the 1970s I vowed to quit driving if the price of gas ever went over 75 cents a gallon.

But don't worry. The government has a plan. And that's where the polar bears come in. The Times' Bettina Boxall wrote Tuesday:

Arctic waters would be open to new oil and gas development under an Obama administration proposal that keeps the Pacific and Atlantic coasts off limits to new drilling. ...

The proposal, which outlines offshore oil and gas leasing from 2012 to 2017, omits areas on the West and East coasts that the Bush administration planned to open to drilling. But it also calls for three lease sales off the coast of Alaska in environmentally fragile areas that have become a much contested frontier of energy production.

So, to feed our insatiable appetite for oil, a Democratic president is willing to risk an oil spill in the Arctic.

And how dumb is that? Remember those images of workers trying to clean up oil-fouled coastal areas after the BP oil blowout?

OK. Now imagine trying to do that in a snowy, icy, really cold and windy place. Talk about jobs no one wants.

And, of course, even that's not enough for those notorious tree-huggers across the aisle, the Republicans:

GOP House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings … complained the proposal "places some of the most promising energy resources in the world off-limits."

Doc, obviously, doesn't have a beach house in Malibu. Of course, he also knows that hell will freeze over before California votes Republican, so what does he care what we think.

It's a discouraging time to be a friend of the Earth. The Obama administration, seemingly, is looking for some way, any way, to approve another environmental nightmare, the Keystone XL pipeline.

And last week came this cheery bit of news:

The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide jumped last year by the biggest amount on record, the U.S. Department of Energy calculated, a sign of how feeble the world's efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.

The new figures for 2010 mean that levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst-case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.

Really now, is this the best we can do?  In October, the world's population hit 7 billion; most of those people are busy doing their part in heating up the planet by burning fossil fuels -- and our response is to go looking for more of the stuff?

If the world were named Michael Jackson, and fossil fuels were called propofol, someone would be going to jail about now.

Forget stopping the bullet train. We need to stop the doomsday train.

A few years back, I attended an engineering day at Stanford. One presentation on oil and the environment featured this quote, from a Saudi oil minister: "The Stone Age didn't end because of a lack of stones."

There's only one way to save those polar bears -- and ourselves -- and it's not by drilling for more oil.

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Photo: A family of polar bears on the Beaufort Sea, where Shell plans to drill for oil and gas. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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