David Holt, President of Consumer Energy Alliance, submitted the following Op-Ed to EnergyBlogs.com on September 15, 2009. View here.

Oil and Water: Why Offshore Drilling and Environmental Protection Are More Compatible Than You Think

One of the most naïve and potentially harmful forms of modern day environmentalism has to be the staunch opposition to oil drilling in the U.S. It’s a view promoted by a lot of not-in-my-backyard types who find a false sense of comfort in the notion that what they don’t see won’t hurt them.

To their credit, many of those same people who consider an offshore oil platform a blight on the environment are doing their part to leave a lighter footprint. They swap their SUVs for a Prius, a Smart Car, or even a bicycle and imply that if everyone else did the same, it would be enough. The problem with this line of reasoning is that the United States and all its residents could do everything in their collective power to curb fossil fuel consumption and, short of bringing the entire American economy to a grinding halt, the country would still remain hugely dependent on oil for decades to come. Like the giant tankers that come to feed our addiction from the Middle East, the North Sea and South America, the country’s oil policy can’t shift course overnight.

Addressing climate change and making serious investments in alternative sources of power are worthy national objectives. But from where we stand today, even under the most optimistic estimates, alternative energy and conservation won’t be able to get us off oil any time soon. The International Energy Agency estimates that alternative energy currently accounts for 7% of our total energy consumption, and will increase its share to 9% by 2030. For the sake of argument, let’s just say the estimate is way too low. Go ahead and double the estimate and you still have a country that needs a lot of oil. You might call it an inconvenient truth.

As long as oil remains the fuel of our modern economy, the question we should really be debating is where we get it. Today, the U.S. consumes one quarter of the world’s oil, but produces only 10% of it. Of the countries that sell us the rest, at least a few share relations with us that are, at best, tense. Many are literally half a world away, resulting in huge financial costs, and a not insignificant global environmental footprint in transporting the oil. (It takes oil to ship oil). Right now we are at a critical time for determining whether or not we set the right course for our economy and our country’s energy development policy for years to come.

We are just two weeks away from the Obama Administration closing a comment period, the results of which will help make a decision that could potentially reverse a moratorium on new offshore leasing that has been in place since 1983. All around the country, as the economy goes south people are starting to recognize that oil is not just a fuel, but a major industry that supports jobs, as well as stability in energy prices. And with today’s new and improving directional technologies, it’s possible to group many wells together allowing multiple subsurface locations to be reached from one platform, which reduces environmental impact.

Voicing your support for the federal government’s “Five-Year Program” – which determines the areas in the U.S. that may be leased for offshore oil and natural gas drilling – is one way to ensure that energy used by Americans is also produced by Americans. If an area is not included in this program, it cannot be leased and is considered off-limits. Therefore, it is imperative that everyone get involved by telling President Obama today that the U.S. needs to responsibly develop its own offshore energy resources. (If you are interested in getting involved, please visit the CEA website, www.consumerenergyalliance.org, or send in a comment by clicking here. The comment period closes September 21, 2009.)

It’s tempting to frame this debate as one between economic and environmental interests. But serious environmentalists understand that you can’t protect the environment by building a fence around your own backyard. Air pollution from China, after all, is showing up in California. Since the U.S. has some of the strictest laws in the world for drilling and producing oil, you have to ask how we are serving the global environment by encouraging – by default – sloppier drilling in places like Russia and Nigeria, which have fragile ecosystems of their own.

Should we then, just throw open the whole country to drilling? Or course not. From the Alaskan tundra to the California coastline and Florida’s sandy beaches, the country has so much natural beauty precisely because of regulations that were put in place to protect it. Any future projects should proceed with great caution, and not commence before thorough reviews conclude the project will not ravage the environment and will yield a substantial volume of oil and/or natural gas.

Decades of improvements in technology that make it possible not only to drill deeper wells but to do so without spills and seepage suggest that at least some locations would meet those criteria. You have to wonder if our not-in-my-backyard attitude toward oil has fueled not just our addiction to foreign oil, but our dangerous indifference to that addiction. We are all more likely to treat our natural resources with the respect they deserve when we understand the process and the effort that goes into developing them.

Our dependence on oil is not going to go away overnight, but when we take more responsibility for what we consume, we’ll be more likely to consume with care. It would be a big improvement from the Out of Sight, Out of Mind attitude about oil that prevails today.