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In Case You Missed It: Investor's Business Daily Editorial: Last But Not Leased

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Washington, July 18, 2008 | comments

Energy Policy: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing the "Drill Responsibly in Leased Lands Act" to block offshore drilling. The fact is, these offshore rigs may be the ticket to saving both our coasts and our economy.

The act would deny oil companies any new leases unless they can show that they're diligently exploring and drilling in existing holdings. It's designed to con the public into thinking the Democrats actually support drilling and the oil companies are restricting supply to drive up prices and profits.

Democrats keep talking about "use it or lose it," referring to 68 million acres of existing leases. But these leases are being used and are already of limited duration. A lease is merely a permission slip to look for oil, not a guarantee of finding any.

Between 2000 and 2007, drilling of exploratory wells increased 138% while domestic crude oil production fell 12.4% to its lowest level since 1947.

According to the American Petroleum Institute, 5,219 oil wells were completed in the second quarter, up 17% from a year ago and the highest second-quarter oil activity since 1986. So oil companies are spending their profits looking for increased supply.

The idea that oil companies are sitting on oil at $145 a barrel is laughable. Democrats simply oppose more fossil fuel use. Their environmentalist patrons worry more about global warming and polar bears than American energy security and family breadwinners driving to work.

If 68 million federal acres are already leased, what are 2,000 additional acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge going to hurt? We know oil is there, lots of it. The old estimate of 10 billion barrels in ANWR is based on old technology and old drilling techniques and therefore may be way too low.

In effect, Democrats want oil companies to find a needle in the haystack, but the haystack is off-limits. The 68 million acres they chatter about pales in comparison to the 1.76 billion acres of the Outer Continental Shelf. The OCS is estimated to contain some 86 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 420 trillion feet of natural gas.

Yet 85% of the acreage is off-limits.

Back in December 2006, Pelosi asserted that "our coasts need lasting protection from oil and gas drilling." She won't go after the 1.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil off the California coast, largely because of an oil spill off Santa Barbara in 1969.

But offshore drilling can actually reduce the amount of oil reaching our beaches by relieving the pressure that forces oil to seep from the ocean floor. According to data from the National Academy of Sciences, just 1% of oil found in U.S. waters comes from drilling and extraction, vs. 63% from natural seepage, 32% from cars and boats, and 4% from tankers.

According to the Department of the Interior, since 1985 more than 7 billion barrels of oil have been produced in federal waters, but less than 0.001% was spilled. It's likely that more oil has been leaked by cars, SUVs and motor homes traveling to these pristine beaches, or from the boats and jet skis rented by tourists, than has been or will be leaked getting the oil to fuel them.

By the way, off Louisiana's coast, not far from our Strategic Petroleum Reserve, 3,200 offshore oil platforms survived Hurricane Katrina without leaking a drop of oil. A study by Louisiana's Sea Grant college found 50 times more marine life around oil platforms, which act as artificial reefs, than in the surrounding mud bottoms. About 85% of fishing trips there involve fishing near these offshore rigs.

Drilling in ANWR and offshore would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, boost supply, cut energy costs and create U.S. jobs. We might even be able to afford to take the family down to the beach.

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