Why We Should Lift the Ban on Drilling Now

John ArmstrongCurrent Affairs

No issue has caught more voter interest in recent weeks than the question regarding offshore drilling. I wrote about it a few weeks ago and continue to reflect on it more today. I am no expert, as several reminded me, but I think I can follow an argument and read what the experts tell us. So here is my take, simple or otherwise.

Lifting the drilling ban on the outer-continental shelf is a no brainer really. Before we can create alternative fuels and new energy use products we must drill. This is not an either/or debate. But this is what many in Congress, led by Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi, are telling us day after day. They blast away on oil companies making profits while the public suffers even more. Their view is to punish the profit-makers and manage our economy by a kind of redistribution of wealth and energy money. This approach will always fail.

We must do all that we can to develop new energy sources but we must ALSO drill now. Why? The challenge in Georgia with the Soviet Union is one compelling reason. The "new" Russia is flexing its muscle and the reason is oil and Russian pride and nationalism. Meanwhile we are energy dependent on the Middle East and need to wean ourselves off this source as well. I made this point a few weeks ago and someone suggested I was mistaken. I did not say that we went to war in Iraq for oil but this is what critics have been saying for five years. Look, our dependence on foreign oil impacts national security, the balance of payments and national economic health. We cannot afford to do nothing. But that is what we are doing so far. 

The argument here is not that complex. We use oil and we could produce it ourselves if we wanted to do it but presently we do not produce nearly enough because we do not have the vision to do it. We do have the oil within our borders but we have not extracted it at a pace to keep up with our need. Oil_rigs_field_2
We have 270-plus million cars and millions more diesel powered trucks on our roads. Logic 101: It will be decades before we can change this reality. We need petroleum and the sooner we find it the better.

But we are being told it will take twenty years for new drilling to have an impact on this problem. This is where the debate lies if truth be told. The truth is we cannot drill our way out of this problem overnight. In fact, drilling even over the next thirty years will not solve the problem. T. Boone Pickens, who is an oil man, understands this reality clearly. But drilling now will slowly change a major crisis to a nagging problem that can be solved. (We should have done it years ago but we have had a Congress uncommitted to doing anything about this and presidents who would not lead us to see it. Your guess is as good as mine as to the motives but these are the facts.)

So what about drilling now? What difference will it make? The 20 year claim is bogus  in my view. It seems to be an old fashioned political scare tactic. The lag time from drilling to extracting the oil is not 20 years if we drill in places where we already know oil is there to extract. If we are talking about places where seismologists think there could be oil, say off the coast of New Jersey, then it might take 20 years to get it. But if we are talking about drilling in areas where we already get oil the time lag is only a few years. The problem is the Congress has banned these areas and the Congress can now change that ban but the will to do it is not there yet. A well drilled one mile from an existing productive well , based on making a political decision to move a line arbitrarily made, will change things in a hurry. And the infrastructure to move this new crude from the ocean to the market is in place. Some who know say that within two to five years we could be moving hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day to market. Some oil experts even say millions of barrels per day. Do the companies want to drill? Of course they do. They can make a profit and the price of gasoline will do down and we will all benefit. America will be more secure, more healthy economically, and less likely to get into a needless new war.

The infrastructure we have in place, which depends on liquid fuels and oil, will not be completely changed for decades, maybe even a hundred years. Again there is no serious debate about this. We will need solar energy, nuclear energy, biofuels and coal  for well beyond our lifetime. But to get from the present to the future we need to drill now. Congress is making a huge mistake.

The irony, at least politically, is simple. The Republicans had no, and I mean no, political muscle to flex in the coming election with regard to the economy. But 75% of America says: "Drill now." if Congress stalls and refuses to deal with this issue in September-October the Democrats could be making a mistake that will ruin their plans for major control of the political future. The Republican party is in a mess in so many ways. The scandals and the profiteering are obvious to all. But this issue is so clear that massive numbers can see it. What will Congress do? I have no idea but if they really care about America I think the decision is obvious and I think most people agree with that assessment.