Drilling McCain on Oil

John McCain is taking heat right now for reversing hisposition on the federal ban on coastal oil drilling, as if flip-flopping itselfwere the cardinal sin here. But the biggest problem is the notion that liftingthe ban will affect gas and oil prices in the short term.

With gas prices topping four dollars a gallon, McCainexplains his switch as an attempt to give Americans relief at the pump. FloridaGov. Charlie Crist justified his late conversion in similar terms: “Floridians are suffering.” A Rasmussenpoll released today showed that 61 percent of Floridavoters agree drilling would bring down the cost of oil and gas.

The problem is, it won’t—at least notfor the next seven years . Here’s the reason, per the Wall Street Journal :

With the disputed areas long off-limits even to exploration,neither government nor industry experts know exactly how much oil and gas isthere, how best to get at it, or even where it is. And although the industry’senvironmental record is much improved since headline-grabbing oil spills ofearlier eras, risks remain, and addressing those risks could delay productionfor years.  

So the notion that it’s going to affect oil prices in the nextfew months is pretty outlandish.

But even long-term, drilling doesn’t fix much. America’scoastal regions have an estimated 19 billion barrels’ worth of oil. The biggestprize—California’ssouthern coast, with an estimated 5.6 billion barrels of oil—has been declaredoff-limits by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The next-biggest score, in the Gulf of Mexico, is estimated at 3.7 billion barrels. The United Statesconsumes 20million barrels of petroleum a day , according to the Energy Information Administration.Which means even the maximum amount of drillable oil would only get the U.S.about two and a half years’ worth of fuel. Realistically, we’d get a lot less.

Even Karl Rove has dissed McCain for spouting “economic nonsense.” (Rove goes after Obama, too.) McCain’srationale for drilling doesn’t inspire either.