The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster on so many levels it's hard to count them all. It is too soon to say if the full parade of horribles, both environmental and economic, will actually come to pass. But in political and policy terms much damage has already been done, because that sp reading blob of dark ooze creeping toward the gulf shores has obscured some critical facts.

One is that both large and offshore rig spills in U.S. waters have declined from 240 in 1971 to 25 last year. And most oil spills do not come from drilling rigs. Most come from tanker accidents. These, too, have been declining, but an energy policy that restricts the amount of oil produced from U.S. sources means more tankers filled with foreign oil steaming toward American shores.

The president has already suspended his plan for new offshore drilling pending the outcome of this case. The sight of birds and other wildlife covered in sticky black goo is unlikely to convince him to reverse that anytime soon. The TV pictures so far today led California Governor Schwarzenegger to withdraw his support for drilling off his state.

But no matter what energy policies we adopt, and no matter what new technologies we develop, oil is going to be needed in massive quantities in this country for years to come. The question is whether we will drill here to get it from our own sources, or leave the drilling to OPEC and pay those countries staggering sums to bring it here in vulnerable tankers.

Brit Hume is the senior political analyst for Fox News Channel.