Report From Congress
By Senator Roger F. Wicker
WICKER SAYS OFFSHORE DRILLING PLAN SHOULD NOT BE DELAYED
In a setback for advocates of increased domestic energy production, the Obama administration recently moved to delay action on increased oil and gas drilling off America’s coasts. The move, announced on February 10 by Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, extended for six months the deadline for public comment on a draft offshore drilling plan announced prior to President Bush leaving office. The plan called for the sale of oil and gas leases in offshore areas that until last year had been kept off limits to production.
In response to this draft plan, a record number of comments already have been submitted by citizens across the country. Additional input is welcome, but the public comment process should not be used to simply delay this plan from moving forward. With the American public firmly behind increased offshore drilling, we should continue moving toward that goal without delay. Doing so will help put us on the path to energy independence, will create tens of thousands of quality jobs, and will generate an enormous amount of tax revenue that will help us recover from the tough economic times we are experiencing.
In response to the demands of millions of Americans, last fall Congress removed a decades-old ban on offshore oil and gas drilling. The move paved the way for the Bush administration to propose a new five-year plan for oil and gas leasing in approximately 85 percent of America’s territorial waters, including large portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and eastern Gulf of Mexico.
The federal government’s Minerals Management Service estimates that these previously off-limits areas contain 19 billion barrels of oil – the equivalent of 30 years of current U.S. oil imports from Saudi Arabia – and over 80 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Understanding both our significant domestic energy reserves and the time consuming process oil and gas companies must follow before they are able to drill, we should not slow this process any longer. As the Heritage Foundation pointed out in a recent memo, “the process by which energy companies obtain a lease, explore for oil and gas, and then produce it takes a number of years to unfold, so the time to start the process is now.”
It is also important to note the economic and financial benefits to increasing domestic energy production, something that should not be overlooked during these difficult economic times.
In a study released in December 2008, the American Petroleum Institute concluded that 160,000 jobs could be created through the development of oil and gas in the offshore areas previously off limits, as well as the energy resources in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and a small portion of the Rocky Mountains.
Of further interest during this time of record federal deficits and numerous state budget shortfalls, the study found that oil and gas development in these areas would generate $1.7 trillion in tax payments for state and federal governments. When these areas are added to the oil and gas deposits already accessible on federal land, the study finds that tax receipts could exceed $4 trillion over the life of the drilling operations.
ACTION NEEDED NOW
The recent dramatic drop in oil and gas prices may have taken the focus off the energy issue, but it has not changed the law of supply and demand. Gas prices may currently be below $2 per gallon, but $4 per gallon gas was a reality only months ago. As our economy recovers and demand increases, high gas prices will likely return.
We should not wait for high gasoline prices before taking action on a bold new energy plan for our country – one that includes increased domestic energy production. Now is the time to act. We should move forward with plans to increase oil and gas drilling – without delay – because doing so will help secure our energy future, create quality jobs, and help fill government coffers in the process.
Senator Roger Wicker