Drilling a hole in consumers’ pockets

By VINCE WILLIAMS, a founding member of REP’s Board of Directors

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: The following letter to the editor, written by Vince Williams and signed by REP President Martha Marks, was published on January 3, 2002 in the Washington Post.



Robert Costanza (op-ed, Dec. 24) must have been waxing rhetorical when he stated:

“Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be permitted only if the parties that stand to gain from the drilling (oil companies) are required to bear the full costs of that activity. To the extent that these costs are allowed to be externalized onto the public, allowing drilling in the refuge would be inefficient, unfair and unsustainable.”

Oil companies are not regulated monopolies, and government cannot dictate what costs they can pass on to the consumer. The federal government might stipulate this requirement in issuing drilling permits, but it would be impossible to effectively monitor and enforce. Consumers will pay all costs associated with extracting oil from the refuge, plus a tidy profit for the oil companies. We will also be expected to assume the full risk and liabiliby for any damage that might take place on our property, as we own the refuge. 

The issue of performance bonds is misleading.

First, it is based on the erroneous assumption that given ample funds, environmental damage resulting from oil production could be fixed.

Second, consumers would foot the bill for any such bonds by paying higher prices for oil and gasoline.

Third, if either the government or environmental groups were dissatisfied with the performance of the oil companies, their respective lawyers would be called in to fight it out in court. The American public would pay for the oil lawyers through higher prices, government lawyers through higher taxes, and environmental lawyers through contributions to supporting organizations. 

Mr. Costanza was correct, however, in his assumption that allowing drilling in the refuge is inefficient, unfair and unsustainable—not to mention environmentally destructive.