Jay Ambrose: Drilling critics missing the point of oil spill 

They are ill, baby, ill, these people who are now chanting, "Spill, baby, spill" as a rebuttal to those who once chanted, "Drill, baby, drill."

We all get their message. It is that we must resist the plea for drilling for more oil in and around the North American continent because we have now seen what can happen - the horrifying accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is a conclusion you could only reach if you suffer from a disease I think of as IIS, or Ideological Inanity Syndrome. So let's try to help these people. Let's explain things to them one step at a time.

First off, let's observe that there is hardly anything in life that is productive or useful or necessary for survival that is also risk-free. Fly in an airplane and you may experience a fatal crash. Use electricity in your home and you may have an electrical fire that levels the place. Sit down for what seems a delicious, nutritious meal and you may get food poisoning and die.

Next, let's agree that oil is crucial to our way of life. Not just important. Crucial. Someday it won't be, but if we faced a significant decline in oil availability prior to developing reasonably priced, easily obtainable alternatives, we would suffer mightily.

Third, let's note the political consensus that this country needs to become less dependent on Middle East oil. The more we are forced to rely on that region, the more likely we are to face sudden, serious deprivation through political and military upheavals, the more we pay because of a price-manipulating cartel and the more we are at the mercy of people who in at least some instances wish our ultimate demise.

Fourth, it is obvious that one answer along with conservation measures and researching non-oil possibilities is to turn more to the resources at hand, to oil that is close by, in our own backyard. It is a reason for rejoicing, not for dismay, to read that there might be enough oil off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to keep this country humming for 11 years all by itself.

But - fifth point - let's go after this near-home oil in the least hazardous way possible. The fact that risks are inevitable does not mean we fail to minimize them, and it is clear what we should be doing: exploring and drilling on land and in shallow waters instead of the exceedingly more perilous practice of going more than 5,000 feet deep, as BP was doing in the Gulf.

All of which brings us back to the IIS crowd, the kind of extreme, radical but extraordinarily powerful environmentalists whose phony stories stopped the exploration for oil on an airport-sized stretch of land in Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge. As the columnist Charles Krauthammer has noted, such opposition to the relatively safe is an inescapable element in what drove BP to the less safe

.

The spill-baby-spill misconstructions are reminiscent of the hysterical overreaction that followed a no-injury accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear facility. A consequence has been more than 30 years of no new nuclear plants and dramatic energy disadvantages afflicting us to this day.

While the Gulf accident is much more devastating, the lesson is not that we should therefore plot even worse catastrophe for the nation over the years to come, but that we should concentrate efforts on what makes most sense, explore what technologies and regulations might avail more protection and come to see how enviro-radicals helped get us to the point of having the accident in the first place.

Examiner Columnist Jay Ambrose is a former Washington opinion writer and editor of two dailies. He can be reached at: Speaktojay@aol.com.

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