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EARTHWATCH : Drill Bits : Dipping into this area’s supply of offshore oil would keep the country running for only 19 days.

We have oil off our coast here in Ventura. American oil. Environmentalists have blocked us from drilling it. We need it now. It’s a whole new ballgame, right? So I called around to see what would be involved in doing our bit in this present crisis and letting the country have it.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Mineral Management figures that new drilling on our coastal oil patch will give us 19 days worth of oil. It’s all we have to give.

That’s humiliating. Gee, all we were trying to do was help. No need to be so negative. So I called the “other side"--the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. They should know. They watch the oil companies day and night. If there’s oil hidden there, they’ll know.

NRDC’s Bob Watson in New York said that the companies pressing to open up new drilling expect to get us 320 million barrels. Whew, that’s better. “That’s every new well drilled from San Diego to Eureka,” he said.

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“How much is our contribution?” I asked.

“I only have figures for Ventura and Santa Barbara together,” he said. I heard him working his computer on the other end while he talked. “This is for both counties,” he repeated, “19 days, as a factor in our 17-million-barrel daily oil use, total for new California coastal oil is 200 days.”

“Where’d that come from?” I asked. “Mineral Management at Interior.” “Oh,” I said.

(It’s Chinatown, Jake.)

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This kind of thing can make me wonder which side I’m on. Why are oil companies fighting to set up an operation (which will take five years to dig and rig) that would run the country for only seven months?

I checked around some more. Mostly reading this very paper--and the other one from New York. Alaska oil runs out in eight years, they say. The United States imports more than it produces. And 10 years ago, we decided to mortgage the farm (become a debtor) to pay for a doubling of imports from OPEC.

Evidently, we are running out of domestic reserves of oil. The New York Times editorializes that selfish Californians have refused to help America. We won’t drill offshore. They seem to think we have a lot to offer.

Whose statistics are they using? And how do they come to the conclusion that California can accomplish this when all of Alaska availeth us not? We thought we had it licked when we drilled up there in the first place.

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It turns out there’s a ray of sunlight behind the clouds. We have oil conservation legislation on the books--and it was enforced until the selfish ‘80s--sufficient to set things right. Ironically, the Japanese copied our economy measures and enforced them. So they kept their economy going--racing ahead of ours--while cutting oil consumption in half. Specifically, today their business produces thousands of dollars of goods with half the oil they needed 10 years ago. And they have full employment.

If the United States increases nationwide gas mileage figures by 1 mile per gallon--say from 25 to 26 m.p.g.--and then from 27 to 28--and sticks to that level, we can save 18 million barrels of oil annually. Oil we don’t have to drill on our coast or buy from OPEC.

That means if we want to support America’s effort by putting 18 million gallons annually into the pipeline, we can do that by going along with an increase in miles-per-gallon standards. There are several bills in the U.S. Senate and House, such as SB 1224, to improve fuel efficiency or end tax incentives that promote consumption.

All this makes me think about a saying that once adorned the entrance to a famous research lab--Rutherford Labs--where things like radar and the jet engine were developed: “We don’t have very much money, so we have to think.”

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* FOR MORE INFORMATION: The above figures were culled from “Estimates of Undiscovered Conventional Oil and Gas Resources in the United States--A Part of the Nation’s Endowment,” U.S. Geological Survey/Minerals Management Service, 1989. To order, write to the Government Printing Office/Federal Center, P.O. Box 25425 Denver, CO 80225.

* GRAY WATER: For more information on gray water, call: city of Ventura, 654-7850; Ventura City Water Conservation Hot Line, 652-4567; Larry Farwell, Goleta water conservation director, 967-8603; or Art Ludwig of Oasis Enviornmental Soaps, 682-3449.


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