THE PRICE OF GASOLINE AS A POLITICAL HANDLE
For several decades, the leaders of the two main political parties in the United States and their supporters have used the price of gasoline as an argument to criticize or praise the current government. This is done knowing that the president lacks the authority to set the price of fuel directly or indirectly. It could be said that it is a device of political convenience used during campaign times as a barometer of the health of the US economy and the prosperity of the population. However, the truth is that there is no person or body with the exclusive power to control how much fuel cost, since this depends on many factors, especially the price of a barrel of oil that fluctuates with supply and demand.
This is a particular issue since on July 1st, the federal government published its proposal for oil exploration on the continental shelf – which includes the Gulf of Mexico. Once approved, this plan will determine the number of wells to be exploited between 2023 and 2028. However, approval of the project depends on the participation of the public, who will have until early October to submit comments.
In this context, numerous interest groups are running advertising campaigns to convince consumers that the only way to achieve “energy independence” from the US is through an increase in the number of offshore oil wells. On the other side of this debate are the environmental organizations that try, often unsuccessfully, to disprove the immediate cost benefit – of such an expansion – paid by the consumer. Furthermore, these groups cite the scientific and statistical evidence of the disproportionate effect that an increase in exploitation platforms and the sustained dependence on fossil fuels have on the health and economic well-being of the communities, mostly racial minorities, who live in the regions where the resource is exploited. Scientists and activists alike argue that the only way to achieve independence from fossil fuels is to invest in sustainable, clean, and renewable energy sources.
WHY IS THE EXPANSION OF OFFSHORE OIL DRILLING LINKED TO LOW GASOLINE PRICES?
Interest groups representing the US oil industry have taken it upon themselves to perpetuate the false notion that an increase in the number of offshore wells will have a virtually immediate effect on the price of a gallon of fuel. The main motive for this disinformation campaign is to gain consumer support for the expansion of tenders to oil companies who will mainly benefit from very lucrative permits.
However, there are studies that rule out that the increase or reduction in the number of offshore oil platforms has an immediate and significant impact on the pockets of people buying fuel in the country.
For example, a new report states that such an expansion would save about one cent for every gallon of gasoline over the next two decades and would not represent an economic improvement for workers in the oil industry.
This report has the consensus of experts from prestigious organizations such as Earth Justice, Healthy Gulf, and the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, who make it clear that the federal government could cancel all new contracts in the coming years, without incurring an appreciable increase in the price of fuel or harm to the labor market. Likewise, the report concludes that this is the right time to leave behind the burning of fossil fuels: oil, coal and natural gas, the sources of 80% of the world’s primary energy demand and the cause of two thirds of emissions of carbon dioxide, the main contributor to climate change.
THE CURRENT 5-YEAR PLAN PROPOSAL
In July 2022, the US Department of the Interior presented the first draft of the plan for oil and gas extraction contracts for the next 5 years. For now, it includes a maximum of 10 possible transactions in the Gulf of Mexico and one in Cook Inlet, off the coast of Alaska. The announcement clearly specifies that the areas of exploitation could be reduced after considering public comments received until the beginning of October.
“Today we present an opportunity for the American people to consider and weigh in on the future of offshore oil and gas leasing. The time for the public to weigh in on our future is now,” said Home Secretary Deb Haaland.
As such, the content of the proposal does not align with President Joe Biden’s election promises. During his 2020 campaign, Biden promised that, if elected, there would be no more drilling “on federal lands” and “even on the high seas,” which was then interpreted as a heavy blow against those who profit from oil exploitation. Failure to comply with the commitment made during the electoral contest could not only incur the discontent of activists and voters who prioritize the environmental issue, but also expose the minority communities of the Gulf of Mexico to the continuation of the worst impacts of the exploitation of hydrocarbons.
Environmental advocates insist that this is not the time to give up the fight for clean, alternative energy. Secretary Haaland agrees: “From day one, President (Joe) Biden and I have made clear our commitment to transitioning to a clean energy economy.”
THIRST FOR BLACK GOLD HAS DEADLY EFFECTS ON COMMUNITIES IN THE GULF OF MEXICO
The current situation leads us down a path that clearly forks. On the one hand there is the path towards not only a continuation, but the expansion of the dependence on fossil fuels. On the other hand, there is the path towards the development of clean and sustainable energies that reduce the irreparable damage to the environment and the communities that today suffer the direct damage of oil exploitation.
In the Gulf of Mexico, racial and ethnic minorities such as Hispanics, Afro-descendants and Asians are the ones who currently live with the environmental injustices as a result of fossil fuel exploitation. Whether from well spills or pollution from routine industry operations or the destruction caused by frequent natural disasters in the region, it is these communities that bear the brunt of socioeconomic stress and exposure to toxins, hazardous chemical residues, and other environmental loads.
It is a co-existence with immense human and environmental cost that the petrochemical industry simply accepts as an unavoidable by-product of business. And chronic health problems as well as homelessness after the impact of natural, technological and man-made disasters are simply occupational hazards for the exclusively profit-oriented fossil fuel industry.