Conservative pundits have, with some justification, been trumpeting the triumph of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) as a way of opening wide the supply of petroleum-based energy that we can access. I say "with some justification" because I sympathize with the push, especially on the right, toward American energy independence (there are folks on the left who, for their own reasons, embrace this view as well), and I think this new lease on life, which has now pushed America into the forefront—ahead of Saudi Arabia—as an oil producer is something to celebrate. At the same time, I do respect the left's worries about fracking's potential for environmental damage, and I'm all for the continuation of in-depth studies that examine the problem. But it should be noted that humanity's primary aim ought to be the furtherance of human flourishing, and when environmental concerns begin to diminish said flourishing, it's time to reconsider the oppressive nature of those concerns. I don't want to live in a toilet, but I'm also not going to sacrifice basic freedoms merely for the sake of cleanliness. The freedoms come first. Quality of life isn't just about sparkling porcelain.
But I can't celebrate America's rise to the top of the oil-producing heap quite yet—not as long as gas prices remain as ridiculously high as they've been since before the outset of the so-called "shale revolution." For years now, we've been flirting with $4 a gallon, and some states (mostly blue ones like California) have gone over that line. By brother recently texted that gas was $2.95 in Front Royal, Virginia; it's sad to realize that my first thought, upon hearing that gas was under $3/gallon, was, "Revolutionary!" It's time to recalibrate the country's expectations. Get America to a point where gas prices are once again down below $2 a gallon, and then I'll seriously think about celebrating. In the meantime, I have a hard time seeing how Joe Citizen benefits from this sudden windfall of petroleum.
A commenter at Instapundit wrote something like a rebuttal to the above sentiment. In response to someone who remarked that gas prices need to get back to $1/gallon, this commenter wrote:
We won't ever have it down that low unless we somehow experience significant overall deflation.
The high price of gas is largely the result of lack of refining capacity. While we have some expanded some refineries over the last few decades we haven't actually built a new one since 1976. They just started a new one in North [Dakota] last year.
The other big reason is the weak dollar because of Fed monetary policy and the massive federal debt of the last 15 years. That is not going to get fixed anytime soon.
I'll grant that the above commenter probably knows far more about economics than I do. Still, gas at under $2 a gallon would be immensely heartening to most hard-working American citizens; it would be a much-needed psychological boost after six years of watching America's global reputation founder.
And the above interpretation of continued high gas prices isn't the only one on offer in the Instapundit comment threads. Another commenter said that leftist environmental groups have an interest in maintaining high gas prices, as this forces us to turn toward alternative sources of energy. I'm not against solar, wind, wave, or any other type of renewable power, but before I embrace alternatives, I need to know that those alternatives are realistic and efficient. Wind energy is a joke, given both its inefficiency and its potential damage to the environment. Solar energy strikes me as more worth looking into, but until we get those immense solar towers up and powering entire cities, I don't see solar as particularly viable. Wave energy seems like the most reliably constant source of power, but we still don't have systems in place that can collect and channel such energy in large quantities—the efficiency issue again. To reiterate: I'm all for clean, efficient, renewable energy, especially if it weans us off coal. But until I see a truly plausible alternative, I think we should keep on fracking. And no partying until gas is under two dollars.