At a March 31 press conference, President Obama announced his plans for expanded offshore drilling. Initially, I was encouraged by the administration’s acknowledgement that oil and gas must play an important role in our energy portfolio. I was hopeful the president’s announcement represented the first of many steps toward utilizing our vast domestic energy reserves.
I have long believed that our nation’s energy resources – much of which can be found off American shores – should be tapped and put to use. Seventy-two percent of Americans agree that the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) should be opened up for exploration. Expanding offshore drilling would create American jobs, increase government revenue, and ease our nation off its costly reliance on foreign energy – and it would do so without growing the federal debt.
Limited and Delayed Drilling
Unfortunately, a closer look at the administration’s plan reveals that it actually diminishes and delays oil and gas development off our nation’s coasts. The Obama administration inherited a robust, five-year leasing plan, authorizing increased offshore oil and gas leasing and development in the OCS. The proposal, drafted by President George W. Bush, would have given our nation the opportunity to maximize our domestic resource potential by granting access to 500 million acres for exploration. Last fall, I joined a bipartisan group of 35 senators and urged the administration to implement this plan without delay.
Instead, the Obama administration’s drilling plan would place under lock and key 60 percent – or 360 million acres of the OCS – that had been slated for exploration. The plan, which is being billed as an expansion of offshore drilling, would actually prohibit our nation from accessing 13 billion barrels of our own oil and over 41 trillion cubic feet of our own natural gas. So what, then, would the administration’s new drilling proposal actually do? It appears that it would accomplish very little.
The “big news” in the president’s March 31 announcement was the sale of leases off the coast of Virginia within two years. However, under the previous administration’s proposal, lease sales for portions of the OCS off Virginia’s shores would have been available by 2011. The Obama administration would actually delay what was already set to happen.
The administration would permit a study of exploration along the Southern Atlantic coast, but there is no guarantee a drop of oil will ever be drilled. The Pacific and the Northern Atlantic coasts – both of which would have been opened for exploration under the previous proposal – would be effectively off limits under the Obama plan. In addition, the administration cancels four lease sales for oil production off the Alaskan coast that were set begin within two years. Ultimately, Obama’s plan would either delay or place in doubt the lease sales needed to begin oil and gas development off our nation’s shores.
America Needs Robust Plan
When the facts are examined, it is hard to justify this drastically limited plan. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that fossil fuels will continue to meet at least 80 percent of energy demand both in the U.S. and globally through 2030. Our government also estimates that America’s taxpayer-owned offshore lands contain 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These oil and gas reserves should be enough to power more than 65 million cars for the next six decades and heat 60 million homes for 160 years.
Fully utilizing our domestic energy resources would create jobs and government revenue during a time of nearly 10 percent unemployment and record budget deficits. A recent study performed by the American Energy Alliance found that allowing production of our offshore oil and gas reserves would create 1.2 million new jobs and would spur $8 trillion in additional economic output. In Mississippi, unemployment has recently jumped to 11.4 percent, which is well above the national average. Our state’s workers and economy would benefit from a robust drilling plan that grants access to oil and gas off the Gulf Coast.
I hope President Obama will rethink this drilling plan. The administration should adopt and implement policies that will strengthen our nation through American energy and American jobs.