Enough al­ready: Let the drilling be­gin

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - H. STER­LING BUR­NETT

Shock and awe — we are liv­ing it! We stand, mouth agape, star­ing at the pump — at $4 gal­lons and fastemp­ty­ing pock­et­books. Even worse, with crude oil al­ready cost­ing more than $120 a bar­rel, many pre­dict this wave has yet to crest.

And while we wait for the price to peak, spend­ing shrinks and the eco­nomic out­look wors­ens. Our en­ergy poli­cies have failed us, and now, we pay the price — lit­er­ally.

In re­sponse, politi­cians call for wind­fall prof­its taxes and tem­po­rary gas tax hol­i­days. Once again, we’re forced to stom­ach po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated, short-term non-an­swers in­stead of long-term so­lu­tions. Here’s a thought: Rather than vil­ify the oil in­dus­try for our sticker shock, let’s take a hard look at the ac­tions of our fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

For years, we’ve ap­proached do­mes­tic drilling in a po­lit­i­cally cor­rect man­ner, plac­ing cari­bou on a pedestal while ig­nor­ing Amer­i­can con­sumers and na­tional se­cu­rity. Politi­cians chose to out­source and im­port, in­stead of ex­pand and drill. As a re­sult, we fill the cof­fers of for­eign na­tions in­stead of boost­ing Amer­i­can gross do­mes­tic prod­uct.

In a re­cent press con­fer­ence, Pres­i­dent Bush sug­gested drilling in Alaska’s Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge. He might be on to some- thing. De­spite the hys­ter­i­cal claims of en­vi­ron­men­tal lob­by­ists, oil and the en­vi­ron­ment can mix. Cari­bou and other wildlife have ex­panded and flour­ished in and around Prud­hoe Bay, ap­par­ently un­af­fected by the rel­a­tively prim­i­tive oil and gas de­vel­op­ment in the area.

And tech­nol­ogy in the oil in­dus­try has im­proved might­ily in the years since the Arc­tic Slope was first tapped. In­deed, two lead­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, the Audubon So­ci­ety and the Na­ture Con­ser­vancy, have al­lowed oil and gas pro­duc­tion on sev­eral of their most im­por­tant and unique na­ture pre­serves.

Un­for­tu­nately, the United States Congress has also banned en­ergy ex­plo­ration in 85 per­cent of our coastal wa­ters. As a re­sult, while Cuba, in part­ner­ship with China, drills closer to the U.S. coast­line than we do, the United States goes hat-in-hand to Saudi Ara­bia, Venezuela, Canada, Nige­ria, Mex­ico and even Iran. Our law­mak­ers’ de­ci­sion to block do­mes­tic ac­cess harms both the pub­lic and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Since 1991, oil tankers have spilled 3 times more oil than off­shore plat­forms. Fur­ther­more, when tankers leak, they tend to do so near shore, re­sult­ing in more se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal dam­age. Thus, be­cause plat­forms are less prone to spills than are tankers, pro­duc­ing more oil off Amer­ica’s coast could be en­vi­ron­men­tally ben­e­fi­cial.

It is es­ti­mated that be­neath Amer­ica’s coast lies enough oil to fuel 60 mil­lion cars in the United States for 60 years — and enough nat­u­ral gas to heat 60 mil­lion homes for 160 years.

Our na­tion — and the world — will need sig­nif­i­cant amounts of oil and nat­u­ral gas well into the fu­ture. The U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion says the United States alone will need 19 per­cent more en­ergy in 2030. Glob­ally, that num­ber jumps to 55 per­cent.

While re­new­ables and al­ter­na­tives are a part of to­mor­row’s en­ergy mix, they can­not rep­re­sent the en­tire an­swer. In the year 2030, those “fu­els of the fu­ture” will only com­prise 9 per­cent of con­sumer de­mand. More than 60 per­cent of de­mand will con­tinue to be ful­filled by oil and nat­u­ral gas. We must take those num­bers to heart and re­move bar­ri­ers to do­mes­tic drilling.

In China, more than a bil­lion peo­ple are be­gin­ning to taste un­paral- leled eco­nomic suc­cess. Each year, in­creas­ing num­bers of Chi­nese cit­i­zens de­mand cars, air con­di­tion­ing, tele­vi­sions, re­frig­er­a­tors, per­sonal com­put­ers and other elec­tron­ics. Each of th­ese ben­e­fits of progress will re­quire more, not less, en­ergy.

And the same story echoes around the globe as economies lib­er­al­ize and ma­te­rial progress be­comes more wide­spread — and the race for en­ergy gets fiercer.

While po­lit­i­cal pun­dits spec­u­late that Amer­ica will stay ahead of the curve, thou­sands of un­em­ployed Amer­i­can work­ers tell a dif­fer­ent story— we are al­ready fall­ing be­hind the eight ball and po­lit­i­cal road­blocks to do­mes­tic en­ergy de­vel­op­ment are partly to blame.

Here’s a shock­ing fact: The world’s largest private oil pro­ducer, Exxon, ranks just 16th in the world. Gov­ern­ment-con­trolled oil fields in Saudi Ara­bia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Rus­sia, Mex­ico and Libya con­tain more fuel than Amer­ica’s largest oil pro­ducer owns. Yet, if al­lowed ac­cess to U.S. oil re­serves in Alaska and off the coast, Amer­i­can oil com­pa­nies could in­crease our re­serves about five­fold — tak­ing the United States from 11th place to fourth among coun­tries with proven re­serves.

The United States is los­ing the en­ergy race not be­cause we are be­ing beaten but be­cause we don’t al­low do­mes­tic com­pa­nies to com­pete. For our na­tion’s se­cu­rity, for our con­sumers’ well-be­ing, and for our work­ers’ con­tin­ued eco­nomic progress, it’s time for Congress to let Amer­i­can com­pa­nies get in the game. Let the drilling be­gin.

H. Ster­ling Bur­nett is a se­nior fel­low with the Na­tional Cen­ter for Pol­icy Anal­y­sis, a non­par­ti­san, non­profit re­search in­sti­tute in Dal­las.

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