Published in BabagaNewz Magazine Heshvan 5769/November 2009
The price of foreign oil has soared from $20 a barrel in 2003 to a high of $ 145 last summer. As a result, gas prices have increased more than 100 percent, a consequence that has strained family budgets. To reduce the economic hardship and the security threat caused by our nation's dependence on foreign oil, President Bush and Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, advocate drilling for oil along America's coastline. Last July, Bush lifted a 27-year-old ban on offshore drilling that was implemented for environmental protection. The president challenged Democrats to pass legislation necessary to legalize responsible offshore exploration. "Democratic leaders can show that they have finally heard the frustrations of the American people," Bush said. Presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama responded for Democrats, saying, "Our national security and the survival of the planet demand a real strategy to break our dependence on foreign oil by developing clean, new sources of energy."
THE CASE FOR DRILLING
The U.S. Department of the Interior's Mineral Management Service estimates that there are 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas submerged beneath America's coastal waters. Developers argue that this bonanza will significantly reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil and reduce gas and energy prices. "The only thing we can do [about the price of gasoline] that is important," says Republican Senator Pete Dominici of New Mexico, "is release large quantities of crude oil and natural gas that are owned by the American people and that have been locked up for 27 years."
THE CASE AGAINST DRILLING
Environmentalists, on the other hand, argue that offshore drilling won't free America from sky-high gasoline prices. "It would take at least a decade to produce any oil and even if the oil did flow, there would be the greenhouse gases from the additional fossil fuel development," says Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. Drilling opponents also claim there is a 33 to 51 percent chance of a major offshore oil spill, which could harm wildlife, including bowhead whales and polar bears. According to these conservationists, the only way to lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil is to develop alternate sources of energy and use our resources more efficiently.
THE JEWISH VIEW
Both sides of the offshore drilling debate can find support within Judaism. The Torah recognizes that humans are unique within creation and have a distinctive moral superiority: God says, "Fill the earth and master it" (Bereishit 1:28). In other words, Earth's natural resources are here for our benefit. But God's declaration that human needs take priority over the rights of nature is immediately balanced by the command to "cultivate and guard" the Garden of Eden (Bereishit 2:15); after all, "If you spoil it, there is nobody to repair it after you" (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13). The ethics of offshore drilling, therefore, require a standard that balances human interests with human responsibilities. The Torah provides the standard, known as bal tashhit, in Devarim 20:19. Bal tashhit prohibits the reckless and unjustifiable destruction of nature.