.. why is there no shortage of oil-based products?
Plastics, rubbers, gasoline, petroleum jelly... do you have any trouble finding any of these things? Do you have to shop around at multiple garages to find the right size of tire? Do you have to wait in line to buy gasoline, or hunt a station that has any at all? Does your grocery store give you paper bags because it already used its ration of plastic?
No. Because there's no shortage of any of the components that go into these things, least of all, oil.
The problem with the drilling argument is that everybody just assumes that the reason oil is expensive is because of some sort of shortage, but there's no evidence that this is the case. Rather, demand is increasing, and speculation is increasing, which is driving the price of oil higher on the mistaken assumption that the demand will remain "inelastic" - the concept that people will have no option but to buy a commodity regardless of its cost.
If there were a supply shortage, you'd have lines for gasoline, lack of plastics, trouble finding rubber products, etc. But we don't have any of those things. No matter how much gasoline, rubber, oil, and plastic we use, there's plenty more, and other economies are in the same position. India has a problem with so many plastic bags littering the street that they're balling up in cows' stomachs and killing them, and their automotive industry is ramping up production as even lower castes are able to switch from bicycle traffic to automobiles.
There's another hitch beyond that, though. The oil industry already has millions of acres of leased land that has already been explored and deemed likely to hold substantial (for America anyway) oil reserves, but they don't drill it because the oil is harder to get at than in existing fields. If there really were a supply problem, only the most difficult reserves might remain untapped, because even if it costs 25% more to extract the oil from the untapped reserves, they could just force the price 25% higher to compensate. If less than 100% of customers are receiving oil they bid on, then there's room to raise the price and increase the supply at the same time.
You could make some sort of case for domestic drilling as a security measure, however. We currently import much of our oil from friendly nations like Canada, but substantial portions of it continue to come from regimes that have legal, social, military, or justice systems antithetical to our interests. However, the fact is, America simply does not have that much oil. We have trees, we have coal, we have natural gas, but we just haven't been blessed with major oil reserves. ANWR accounts for such a tiny portion of the world's oil that it would dent maybe 3% to 5% of our demand, barely affecting the money we send overseas in exchange for oil imports, and even that assumes that restrictions are placed on oil companies (such restrictions already exist to a great extent, actually) to keep them from selling the oil to anyone but Americans!
The fact is, domestic drilling is a pointless pipe dream that's being used as an election year wedge issue. The costs are so high monetarily and environmentally, and the risk of failure so great, that it's nearly pointless to even consider right now. It may be wise to put the infrastructure in place in case of future emergencies such as another oil embargo, but to try and argue that domestic oil drilling will have a substantial impact on consumer prices is, simply put, ridiculous. Instead, I would argue that conservation should be the most pressing near-term activity, and that rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure on newer, more resilient and renewable technology is an effective long term strategy.
Unfortunately, opponents of domestic oil drilling too often focus on the wrong things. While I'm a fan of nuclear power, we also lack significant reserves of fissionable material. The majority of nuclear fuel is currently locked up in mines in Africa, and many of those mines are being shut down due to the extensive damage they've caused local tribes and the exploitation of communities they've brought. It ultimately does us little good to shift from non-renewable oil in foreign nations to non-renewable nuclear fuel in foreign countries.
Furthermore, while wind and solar power are excellent supplemental power sources, they are simply inadequate, alone, to be primary power sources. While this may change in the future with new technologies, we should not count on them to be able to supplement any increase in electric car production that would further tax our already limited grid. Additional clean coal-fired power plants, combined with solar and wind supplements, may be an answer to the problem, but it's risky and requires a substantial investment in new infrastructure, as well as a shift in consumer mindset.
In the end, all I've done is criticize other people's ideas without offering any substantial ideas of my own, and I realize that. However, I don't think that the offshore / ANWR drilling spectacle currently playing itself out in public debate is an honest one. I believe it was introduced as a wedge issue against Obama (and an effective one at that) because the republicans know the typical voter is woefully under-informed when it comes to the details of complex issues like this. I think that instead of playing politics, the two parties should be investigating ways to actually resolve our dependency problems, and remove oil from the equation altogether.
Unfortunately, I'm not willing to hold my breath. The Republicans have an effective tactic to use against Obama now, and the Democrats will focus on defending him rather than researching real solutions.
Politics as usual, at the expense of everyone else.