Making energy policy is hard. It's even harder when a loud fraction of the electorate doesn't seem to be conversant with basic facts.
FrumForum is a conservative blog run by David Frum, an author, commentator, and former speechwriter for George W. Bush who is interested in holding intelligent debates about the great issues of our day. Accordingly, he has a low regard for the Tea Party brigades.
Frum sent some interns to a DC Tea Party rally the other day to survey them about the economy, taxes, health care, and energy. The crowd size was 300 to 500, and the sample size was 57.
The Tea Partiers were asked how much oil lies beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, in terms equivalent to annual domestic oil consumption. The average response was 70 years. One person estimated 1,000 years worth.
The right answer - if you accept the highest number in a U.S. Geological Survey estimate - is about 2 years and 3 months, based on the present consumption rate. That works out to around 16 billion barrels.
If it were 70 years, as the Tea Partiers' average response indicated, the refuge would contain nearly 500 billion barrels of oil - equivalent to 40 percent of all the petroleum that the world has consumed since Edwin Drake struck oil in Pennsylvania back in 1859.
Saudi Arabia's supergiant Ghawar field, the world's largest, would be a tiddler by comparison, with a mere 140 billion barrels of initial reserves.
If the Tea Partiers were right, we could join OPEC. Hell, we could run the joint.
Of course, they're not right. Frum's primary conclusion is not so much that the Tea Partiers got their facts so crazily wrong, but that their misinformation comes from inhabiting an echo chamber where the gruel spoon-fed by the daily circus acts on talk radio and out on the blogs is taken as gospel.
In fairness, the echo chamber effect is not unique to the Tea Partiers; an artifact of political polarization and media fragmentation is that it's easier for people across the ideological spectrum to stay within information comfort zones that confirm rather than challenge their beliefs.
Which is one reason why the belief persists that drilling the Arctic refuge would be an energy security magic wand, and the facts be damned.
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