Friday, June 20, 2008

The Great Oil Stampede of 2008

So much smoke all of a sudden and so little fire, not just drifting out of the Great Dismal Swamp, but belching from the proponents of offshore oil and gas drilling. I've watched for a couple of weeks now as conservationists, democrats, liberals, foreigners and just about everybody else except the real culprits were dragged through mud in the press as being the cause of our sky high gasoline prices. There are a lot of reasons why they're wrong.

First of all gasoline is expensive because we allowed our economy to be driven into the ditch, and the value of the dollar has fallen on the world market. If we were buying gasoline with Euros, gas would be the equivalent of about $2.50 US per gallon. A weak dollar makes all foreign purchases more expensive.

Second, despite what Newt Gingrich and his cohort has been busy preaching on every talk show on TV and radio, there is no ban on offshore drilling to lift. Oil companies can still drill on the offshore leases they own, and they own a lot. There is only a ban on new offshore leases. According to evidence obtained through congressional oversight hearings (the first such hearings on energy of this president's two terms), as reported by Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio, inside the continental US offshore waters there are "44 million acres off the coast leased, 10.5 million acres of that has been developed, but the other 33.5 million acres are available for offshore drilling." According to the United States Department of Minerals Management Services, 80% of the potential offshore oil is available to be developed through existing leases, but has not been pumped by the lease holder. From the report of hearings before the congressional Committee on Natural Resources, "Between 1999 and 2007, the number of drilling permits issued for development of public lands increased by more than 361%, yet gasoline prices have also risen dramatically contradicting the argument that more drilling means lower gasoline prices. There is simply no correlation between the two."

Further, back in the 90's former President Clinton leased what used to be known as the Naval Petroleum Reserve, now known as the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska, to the oil companies, a field which contains a known 13.4 billion barrels of oil & is the largest reserve on the continent. Since the Clinton presidency, the lease holders have drilled 25 wells and capped them all. Because oil has gone from some $20 per barrel to it's current $135 mark since those leases were let, the Oil and Gas companies have increased the value of their underground stores without pumping a single barrel from under federal lands. In short, they're sitting on their investment and watching it grow in value. Why should they pump more oil to lower the price when we're willing to pay four to five dollars per gallon?

Finally, none of the sturm und drang over offshore oil leases really matters much when the United State's oil reserve numbers are compared to the world market, which produces (and consumes) 300 billion barrels of oil per year. According to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration the technically recoverable oil in the lower 48 states amounts to 40.92 billion barrels of oil, a drop in the bucket. Of that, only 18.17 billion barrels of oil are "unavailable for leasing or development." Compared to the worldwide oil production, the much disputed ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) fields contain about 17 days of world oil usage. All told, US estimated oil reserves (Alaska plus the oil in and offshore of the lower 48 states) are 221 billion barrels--period. That's less than one year's worldwide production of oil or, if dedicated to the US market alone, 1000 days of US usage.

In short, we pumped America dry first and that hurts us now. But here's the real pain: within the lifetime of the graduating class of 2008, China alone--at it's current rate of growth--will demand about 300 billion barrels of oil per year, the today's total production. So we're at an energy crossroads in the United States.

We can either doom our children and grandchildren to endless wars over a depleting resource like oil, or we can put this nation's talents and considerable might behind greater energy efficiency and developing alternative energy options to fuel this great nation. This is a patriotic duty we owe our country and a parental duty owe our kids. Take up the challenge of developing alternative energy today.

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