It’s nearly impossible to read, watch or listen to the news lately without updates on the uprisings in the Middle East. While some may view these events, tragic though they are, as removed from their day-to-day lives, their impact is in fact far too close to home. While nearly everyone agrees that this global tension further demonstrates the need to extricate the U.S. from unstable sources of energy abroad, our own government agencies have put in place policies that do the exact opposite.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of the tragic oil spill at the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, some lawmakers are seizing the opportunity to push legislation further crippling the oil and gas industry’s ability to produce domestic energy. Environmental groups are actively pursuing litigation to this effect. While anti-drilling proponents advance their cause in the name of energy security, their efforts are sabotaging that very goal.
There’s no getting around the fact that oil and natural gas produced right here in the United States will still account for 57 percent or more of domestic energy consumption by 2035. Not to mention that domestic production — not by Cuban, Brazilian or Chinese companies permitted to drill within miles of our coast — of these resources will ease the decades-long grip held by petro-dictators over the United States. Alternative sources of energy, while undoubtedly important to develop in the present and deploy in the future, aren’t yet ready to meet demand. While we work as a nation to diversity our energy portfolio and improve overall efficiency and conservation, current bureaucratic, legal and legislative barriers to drilling in the form of moratoriums, permitoriums and bills like “Use it or Lose it” only deepen our dependence on foreign sources of oil.
The president is doing his part, as well. In a trip to Brazil earlier this month, he told Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, whose country recently discovered two major oil fields off the coast of Rio, that the United States wants to be one of Brazil’s “best customers” once it’s ready to sell. The president stated: “At a time when we’ve been reminded how easily instability in other parts of the world can affect the price of oil, the United States could not be happier with the potential for a new, stable source of energy.”
The president is exactly right about the impact of foreign events on the price of oil. However, he contradicts himself just seconds later. He doesn’t seem to understand — or realize — that shifting our foreign energy dependence from one part of the world to another doesn’t make us more energy secure, and it certainly doesn’t help prices at the gas pump. Instead of looking to Brazil — or any other country, for that matter — why aren’t we moving to produce 97% of offshore federal lands that are kept off limits to energy exploration?
Though the moratorium on Gulf drilling has been lifted and a few permits have been issued since, thousands of workers remain on the unemployment ranks. A recent study by Louisiana State University Professor Joseph Mason found that some 13,000 jobs and $800 million worth of wages have been lost in the Gulf region since last summer’s moratorium on offshore oil production. National job losses are estimated at 19,000, and national wage losses at $1.1 billion.
While our government struggles to formulate some sort of workable energy policy in light of domestic and international events, our national and economic security remain at risk. We’ll need energy from somewhere, and continued inaction in the Gulf threatens to force the United States to import an extra 88 million barrels of oil per year by 2016, at a cost of $8 billion.
What’s often unacknowledged in this debate is the tremendous steps the industry has taken to improve its safety and response capabilities after the Macondo incident. The industry and government heeded this wake-up call, with the industry doing its part in crafting two state-of-the-art containment systems proven to capture spills more catastrophic than what occurred last spring, and meeting the government’s deservedly stricter safety standards.
If this administration viewed our domestic oil and gas industry as a growth engine — one that directly and indirectly employs 9.2 million Americans and contributes 7.5% of our GDP — it may be the first to realize true energy security.
David Holt is President of the Consumer Energy Alliance.