June 10, 2008

U.S. Should Drill for Oil and Gas in Arctic, Offshore

By Donald W. Lyons

The United States could and should increase domestic oil production. Our country has extensive oil and natural gas reserves. The U.S. Outer Continental Shelf contains an extraordinary 112 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 656 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to keep our country in affordable energy for decades, according to estimates made by the Department of Interior.

Astonishingly, 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf is off- limits to drilling, as is a large part of the mountain West and the Alaskan wilderness. These areas will remain closed to energy development unless and until Congress opens them up.

I believe that the United States should adopt a new national energy policy aimed at responsibly using these oil and natural gas reserves. Such a policy would stimulate massive growth in jobs and greatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The states that border the offshore reserves or contain the onshore reserves are anxious to benefit from the jobs and economic development that producing this oil would provide. What is needed is a U.S. national energy policy which will allow individual states to make an informed choice to allow offshore and onshore drilling for oil and natural gas.

The most often voiced objection to offshore drilling is that it harms the marine environment. That's wrong. Advanced technologies such as four-dimensional seismic imaging and horizontal drilling are enabling companies to find and produce oil and natural gas in ways that are environmentally safe. Studies by the National Research Council show that the amount of oil spilled from offshore drilling in U.S. coastal waters is less than the oil that seeps naturally from the ocean floor.

Producing offshore oil and natural gas would allow money to start flowing to states under revenue-sharing with the federal government. And a real boost in domestic oil and gas production would go a long way toward keeping hundreds of billions of dollars in the United States and out of the hands of foreign governments.

Just as energy development was the engine for economic growth in the Gulf region, it could do the same for states on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

America's oil and gas industry isn't the problem. It's part of the solution. The president and Congress should forge an agenda to increase domestic energy production. Every state should be given the option of deciding whether they want offshore drilling. If domestic production stalls and oil prices continue to rise, our dependence on imports will soar even higher. U.S. oil and gas resources can't provide jobs or help repair the economy if they remain buried in the ground.

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