Just another drop in the bucket

It lies beneath a section of the Gulf of Mexico where the water is 4,000 feet deep.

But once you’ve reached the cold and inky blackness of the sea floor, you’ve only just begun. Now drill down another seven miles through solid rock — as far in the opposite direction as if you were scaling the heights of Everest.

There, in U.S. waters about 250 miles southeast of Houston, in a layer of rock formed 24 million to 65 million years ago called the “lower tertiary,” new oil has been found, officials for the oil company BP announced Wednesday. Lots of it.

The so-called Tiber Prospect is expected to rank among the largest petroleum discoveries in the United States, potentially producing half as much crude in a day as Alaska’s famous North Slope oil field.

The company’s chief of exploration on Wednesday estimated the Tiber deposit holds between 4 billion and 6 billion barrels of oil equivalent. In theory, that would be enough to satisfy U.S. demand for nearly a year. (In reality, wells don’t produce that fast — once in production such a facility might pump 300,000 gallons a day.)

Chevron Corp., which drilled one of the first wells in the region in 2001, estimated in 2006 that the lower tertiary holds between 3 billion and 15 billion barrels.

The majority of Americans want such deposits developed, of course. Barack Obama got elected in part because he swore up and down he was not one of those radical environmentalists who wants to stop most energy production, purposely crippling our economy so a beaten-down, less prosperous America will make a “smaller footprint” in the ecosphere.

Candidate Obama knew he had to talk that way to get elected. Since then, not so much — unless you mean subsidizing oil development off the coast of Brazil.

The new gulf well will take years and billions of dollars in private capital (from those seeking “a profit”? Oh, the horror!) to develop.

The green extreme will complain the new wells represent “just a drop in the bucket” to our energy needs. Just as they’ve complained the oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge represents “just a drop in the bucket,” that the oil along California’s and Florida’s continental shelves are “just drops in the bucket” …

All true. And if you get enough drops — which might have to include some renewed nuclear and some clean coal — you fill the bucket. Isn’t that the goal?

Or is it?

A century and a half ago, anyone could draw the line of our increasing usage on a chart and predict the day when all the whales would be dead and all our whale-oil lamps would flicker out.

But it never happened. A pair of American entrepreneurs named George Bissell and Edwin Drake, backed by a “greedy” banker and some other capitalists, decided to do something no one had ever tried. They drilled into the ground — for oil. The whales were spared, the West grew rich, the rest is history.

Creative entrepreneurs always find the new resources mankind needs to grow and prosper — if they aren’t stopped by those who claim a monopoly on force.

Are the green extreme happy that technical innovation and capitalist investment and human ambition have just found us a new source of energy to light our homes and power our factories?

Or not?

Is it just a coincidence that they always try to block the footsteps of progress, no matter which way those footsteps turn?

If they don’t want America to find enough proven, inexpensive energy to go back to growing and prospering, perhaps it’s time for them to articulate precisely what their goal for us really is.

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