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Published: Tuesday, 4/27/2010

End oil addiction

AMERICANS regret the apparent loss of 11 oil workers on the rig that exploded and sank 50 miles off the Louisiana coast last week.

To understand what it means for the country, the tragedy must be viewed alongside two other recent developments. One was the death in the West Virginia coal fields this month of 29 workers at the Upper Big Branch mine. The other was the decision in March by President Obama to open up new areas to offshore drilling, making states from Delaware to Florida potentially vulnerable to the same sort of accident that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico.

What comes next in the destruction of the oil rig is its environmental impact. About 42,000 gallons of oil a day are pouring from the rig's well into the Gulf. Officials are trying to contain what spilled after the explosion and reduce the threat to wildlife, livelihoods, and vegetation on the coastline.

The common element in all three events - two of which have taken human tolls - is America's continued addiction to fossil fuels. It drives the drilling of oil from off the shores of Louisiana, the digging of coal from mines in West Virginia, and the decision by Mr. Obama to expand exploration off the nation's fragile coastline.

It is perfectly comprehensible that Mr. Obama and other Americans want to reduce the nation's dependence on imported oil. The numbers on the addiction are staggering, both in strategic terms as the nation derives oil from unstable parts of the world and in the continuing price the United States pays in environmental terms - not to mention the occasional loss of life.

The world produces 85 million barrels of oil a day. The United States consumes 21 million barrels, a quarter of the total, even though the U.S. population is less than 5 percent of the world's count.

The United States imports more than half of its daily oil consumption. It obtains the rest from domestic drilling. Even with Mr. Obama's offshore drilling authorization, "drill, baby, drill" is not the answer. In fact, it is deceptive.

The answer, tiresome and expensive though it may seem, is reduced energy consumption in general and, in particular, the replacement of fossil fuels by alternative sources. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that America is destined to see more tragic events such as those in West Virginia and offshore Louisiana until it changes its ways.



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