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Drilling for the future

By Alan Caruba
web posted 12, 2006

As the price of gasoline and the myriad products that utilize petroleum in their manufacture rises, Americans are going to ask why the Congress has resisted accessing the billions of barrels' worth of oil and natural gas in our offshore continental shelf.

The glory days of American oil production: Red River oil field near Burkburnett, Texas
The glory days of American oil production: Red River oil field near Burkburnett, Texas

As the realization of how dependent we are on the importation of Middle Eastern oil, plus the fact that U.S. dollars fund avowed enemies such as Iran and, in South America, Venezuela, Americans are going to ask why we do not tap our own Alaskan and offshore resources.

As a matter of national security and as a significant boost to the American economy, it makes no sense to not assure and achieve a higher level of energy independence.

So why, in mid-May, did the House of Representatives reject an end to the quarter-century ban on oil and natural gas drilling in 85 percent of America's coastal waters?

At the time, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, issued a statement that both defied logic and flatout lied, saying the vote against offshore drilling was great victory for consumers who have seen prices rise prodigiously. "In the meantime, working families are turning their wallets inside out to fill their gas tanks. It is outrageous to ask families to dig even deeper to subsidize oil drilling on undersea lands that belong to the American people."

Americans are paying more because the global price of a barrel of oil has been increased by fears of military conflict in the Middle East, probably initiated by Iran.

Americans are paying more because, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes destroyed 115 oil platforms and damaged another 50, along with 183 pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico and refineries in Louisiana. Despite this, the U.S. Mineral Management Service (MMS) reported that there were no significant oil spills from offshore platforms and no oil reached the coastline.

And, no, Americans do not "subsidize" oil drilling. Pelosi's boogeyman of "Big Oil." Indeed, as a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration noted in 2005, the MMS "collects and disperses billions of dollars in revenue from the sale of mineral leases. Offshore leases brought in revenues of $5.2 billion in 2000. This represents 73.1 percent of the $7.1 billion in revenues collected from all Federal and American Indian mineral leases that year."

As for those big profits enjoyed by "Big Oil", it's worth noting that a single offshore drilling platform costs about $100 million dollars to build and that comes after the equally enormous costs of exploring for oil and natural gas resources. And "Big Oil" not only pays big taxes on its profits, but also employs thousands of Americans in the process.

According to the Consumer Alliance for Energy Security, the Offshore Continental Shelf (OCS)—85 percent of which isoff-limits to exploration—is estimated to have enough natural gas to heat 100 million homes for the next 60 years and enough oil to drive 85 million cars for 35 years. Thanks to the vote in the House, it remains off-limits.

When the House of Representatives voted to open the Arctic Refuge to oil drilling in late May, Rep. Pelosi again issued a statement decrying "the same, tired ideas on energy such as opening the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. We should not sacrifice the Arctic coastal plain, one of America's last truly wild places, for the sake of a small amount of oil."

Small? Well, if anyone considers an estimated 10.4 billion barrels to the nation's oil supply "small", then one wonders what they consider large? The vote was 225 to 201. In truth, only 2,000 of the nearly 20 million acres of ANWR would be needed for oil and gas production, contributing billions in tax revenue, and creating or sustaining thousands of American jobs.

Opening ANWR and the Offshore Continental Shelf would bring many benefits. Put simply, more oil and natural gas means lower prices. With it come greater national security and more independence from the vagaries of Middle Eastern politics.

Speaking for the Democrats and echoing the cries of environmental organizations opposed to energy independence, Rep. Pelosi called for "home-grown renewable energy, innovative technologies, and efficient use of energy in our homes, vehicles, workplaces, and factories." Blah, blah, blah!

This is the kind of empty environmental rhetoric that has left Americans paying higher prices for oil and natural gas than ever before. It posits the use of wind and solar energy on a scale that is neither viable, nor realistic because neither will ever produce enough energy to replace conventional sources.

Rep. Pelosi said that, "America's farmers will fuel our energy independence", apparently by "rapidly expand[ing] the production and distribution of biofuels, encourage[ing] the deployment of new engine technologies for flex fuel, hybrid and biodiesel vehicles; and encourage[ing] cutting-edge research to develop the next revolution in renewable energy."

The notion that America or any of the other industrialized nations of the world will be able to depend on energy sources from corn and other agricultural products in the near future is absurd. Moreover, it ignores the vast reserves of known and yet to be discovered of oil and natural gas that exist.

The problem, of course, is getting Congress to permit America to actually access its own resources! The effort to open a relatively small portion of ANWR has been stalled for three decades. The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act was passed in 1953! It authorized the Department of the Interior to lease defined areas for development. According to the Energy Information Administration, "The offshore has accounted for about one-quarter of total U.S. natural gas production over the past two decades and almost 30 percent of total U.S. oil production in recent years."

"In 2003, MMS estimated that there was 406.1 trillion cubic feet of remaining undiscovered technically recoverable natural gas and 76 billion barrels of oil in U.S. offshore regions."

So why, in 1990, did former President George Walker Bush enact a blanket moratorium on all unleased areas offshore of North and Central California, Southern California except for 87 tracts, Washington, Oregon, the North Atlantic coast, and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico coast? The moratorium was extended in 1998 by former President Clinton through 2012.

Why has the Congress of the United States refused to permit the exploration and extraction of our nation's own natural gas and oil resources? Why does a coalition of 27 of the nation's leading environmental organizations continue to campaign against access? And why do ordinary Americans have to remain at the mercy of Middle Eastern nations and major suppliers like Venezuela?

There are literally trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and billions of oil barrels extant in the offshore continental coast of the United States. Every day on 4,000 offshore platforms natural gas and oil is extracted from Federal waters in an environmentally sensitive manner.

There is an extremely dangerous game being played by the White House, Congress, and environmental organizations that is placing the economy and the security of America at great risk. If energy independence is what this nation needs—and it does—it is ours for the taking.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, 2006

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