Tug-O-War: Lower Gas Prices or Stop Drilling?


Who doesn’t like to save money? And with the rising oil prices, a cut in the cost of oil per gallon could greatly alleviate America’s hungry wallets, giving us room to buy other necessary things. In this increasingly technological and fast-past world, we depend heavily upon and use oil every day. It is also harder to get by these days without a car. The rising need for more pushes oil companies to try to meet consumer demand and find more unconventional ways to get what they need. In this case, Shell turns to drilling in the Arctic.

Shell has been pushing for greater rights to explore drilling in the Arctic. Finally, on May 11, 2015, Obama granted Shell conditional permission to begin offshore drilling in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. It is estimated that the Arctic contains about twenty percent of the world’s undiscovered oil. The U.S. alone could receive about twenty-four million barrels of oil from drilling, which  would increase America’s  security and wean our dependence off other countries. [ref] Timothy Gardner, “Here’s Why Obama is Approving Arctic Drilling Again,” Reuters, April 1,2015, accessed May19, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/01/usa-shell-arctic-idUSKBN0MS54K20150401. [/ref] It might even lower the cost of gas. The Obama administration has claimed that they will heavily regulate Shell’s drilling. Shell still needs to obtain other permits from the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to officially begin. 

This decision sparked outrage.  Environmentalists in particular felt Obama acted irresponsibly and contrary to his supposed commitment towards a more green economy.  Their main concerns are anything but light, warning the public of the environmental damage due to increased CO2 emissions and the high chance of a major oil spill. More alarmingly, the Federal Bureau of Ocean Energy management estimates that there is a seventy-five percent chance of oil spillage in the Arctic in the next decades if oil extraction were to continue. [ref] Christopher Joyce, “ In Arctic Drilling Debate, A Dispute over Cleanup Preparedness,” NPR, May 15. 2015, accessed May 18, 2015,http://www.npr.org/2015/05/15/407071574/environmentalists-say-shells-arctic-drilling-plan-presents-safety-risks. [/ref] The high percentage of spill poses a grave and very real threat to the environment. It could even be worse than the 2010 oil incident we had, which spewed 3.19 million tons of oil into the sea, killed eleven people, and ravaged wildlife and fishing businesses. 

But the vendetta comes down to this: Are people really willing to make the necessary changes to decrease the demand for gas and oil? The tension lies in the fact that consumers prefer to spend less, that the change needed to lessen America’s dependence on oil and fossil fuels isn’t happening quick enough, and that the environment is being heavily exploited as a result. 

A balance must be struck between consumer demand and protecting the environment. The need for greater oil supply is real, but the need to protect the environment is also very real. Climate change has been a hot topic for many years, but now there is an increasing awareness towards it. In addition, the effects of climate change are also affecting our personal lives more and more. States in the coastal areas and the Southwest will experience rising sea levels and an increased number of hurricanes. States in the West coast, like California, Nevada, and Arizona, are undergoing a severe drought. California has been the hardest hit; never has there been a time in California’s recorded history that was drier than this. It’s agricultural sector has taken the biggest hit. Since there is not enough water for farmers, they are paying high prices to get their water elsewhere, and cutting their production significantly. America heavily depends on California’s  agricultural sector for food; over ninety percent of walnuts, artichokes, kiwis, plums, and celery, come from California. California also produces over half of the nation’s spinach, carrots and fruits.[ref]Brian Palmer, “The C-Free Diet: If we didn’t have California, What would we eat?”  Slate Magazine, July 10, 2013, accessed May 19, 2015, http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/explainer/2013/07/california_grows_all_of_our_fruits_and_vegetables_what_would_we_eat_without.html[/ref] 

A dwindling water supply and extreme weather is not all that Americans have to contend with. Climate change affects everything.  Our ecosystems are changing; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that twenty to thirty percent of certain plant and animal species like ringed seals, cold-water fish, salmon, and others are at risk of being extinct by the end of this century if patterns continue.[ref]EPA, “Climate,” accessed May 19, 2015, http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/impacts-adaptation/ecosystems.html#ref1.[/ref] Warmer temperatures also directly affect our health, as it will lead to a greater concentration of air and water pollutants.

Unlike our bank accounts, climate change may not be something too many people think about all the time. It may be easier to push back environmental needs and make them secondary to personal needs, but we cannot ignore the earth that we live on for too long.  If we fail to take care of the very ground that gives us life, we will suffer more dire consequences than what we see now. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that eighty percent of our energy use is contributing to climate change, mostly due to fossil fuels. 

In the long-run, America should be aiming towards using more sustainable energy, such as solar, wind, hydropower, and hybrid/electric cars. Our goal should be to completely wean off of energy sources that hurt ourselves and environment. We should also push for stronger initiatives to get people to switch from using gas-omitting cars to electric or hybrid cars.  Alternatives for oil drilling do exist. If we can lessen our demand for oil and heighten our requests for sustainable alternatives, we can push the Obama administration to make the changes that are necessary for the health of this country in the long-run.

Take Action:

First and foremost, if you are opposed to Obama’s decision to drill the Arctic, sign Greenpeace’s “Save the Arctic” petition.

Moreover, reduce your own ecological footprint. Everyone can play an individual role in cutting back. It could be as simple turning off unused lights, not wasting energy, only doing full loads of laundry, and riding a bike or walking instead of driving. Find out at Footprint Calculator what impact your daily activities are leaving on the earth and how to reduce your personal footprint.

Finally, if you have been thinking about switching to a hybrid or electric car, the time is now. The more we lessen our dependency on oil, the more we can push for greater sources of alternative energy. The U.S. Department of Energy provides lots of information regarding incentives and tax reductions exist when you purchase one of these cars.




Joyce Chu is a policy corner writer who has a passion to bring awareness to important social and political issues happening in the world. She graduated from University of California, Irvine with a double bachelors in International Studies and Journalism. Joyce discovered her passion for journalism when she was studying abroad in Israel. While there, an unruly conflict took place as Israel and Gaza stated to bomb one another. Through this experience she realized that she desired to be in places of action/ areas of conflict, and to tell the stories that are happening on the ground. Joyce hopes to not only bring social awareness, but to inspire change through music and other art forms. Hope comes from inspiration, and inspiration is the mechanism that will drive people towards action and empowerment.