Out of Control Policy Blog

Katrinaís effect at the pump

Katrina forced the temporary closure of at least eight refineries, responsible for as much as 10 percent of the nation's oil production. The result–oil prices shoot up even more.

Here's our Adrian Moore writing for the OC Register:

    A new oil refinery has not been built in the United States since 1976. During that time, our gasoline use has increased over 25 percent. The nation's 149 existing refineries have been running at maximum capacity trying to meet record demand and, as a result, not only do we import oil, we actually have to import 10 percent of our daily gasoline from refineries overseas.

    But getting an oil refinery built is next to impossible, hence the 30-year construction drought. There will always be environmental activists who fight any new proposed refinery, regardless of where it might be located and how environmentally safe it is. And our environmental rules give them the upper hand.

    The environmental impact-report process mobilizes the "not in my back yard" elements to oppose any proposed refinery, but it does not mobilize people or groups who are looking at national energy needs. You wind up with a very lopsided discussion where potential problems are thoroughly and perhaps overly represented, but the only group pointing out the benefits of the refinery is the "evil" oil company asking to build it - even though every automobile driver would benefit.

    Consider the example of Arizona Clean Fuels, which has been trying to build a small refinery outside Yuma for almost 10 years. It took five years just to get air-quality permits. Now they hope to be operational in 2010, 15 years after they started the project.

    President Bush recently signed a new energy bill that tries to make it easier to build new oil refineries, especially in areas with high unemployment – where the new jobs would likely be welcome. And yet, special-interest groups decried the provision as an environmental and public health injustice, arguing that these communities won't want refineries but won't have the political power to fight them off.

    The opposition to building new refineries ignores the dramatic technological improvements that have been made since an oil refinery was last constructed here in 1976. New, clean refineries emit far less pollution than older refineries, with new scrubbers and design changes that dramatically reduce sulfur and other emissions. And at the same time our ability to model and map emission characteristics and distribution lets us choose the best locations for new facilities – where they will have the least possible impact on people and the environment.

Whole thing here.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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