02 October 2008

Congress Allows Offshore Oil Drilling Ban to Expire

Environment News Service, September 30, 2008

WASHINGTON, DC, September 30, 2008 (ENS) - President George W. Bush today signed a consolidated appropriations bill that funds government operations through March 2009, including disaster relief. The measure also lifts a long-standing legislative ban on offshore oil and gas leasing cherished by conservationists.

Earlier this year, President Bush lifted an executive moratorium on oil and gas leasing offshore, so with the signing of this bill the petroleum industry is free to lease areas of the Outer Continental Shelf that have been off-limits for 27 years.

"This Act lifts the legislative moratoria on oil and gas leasing on significant portions of the Outer Continental Shelf and the prohibition on the completion of regulations for commercial leasing of oil shale, which will allow us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil," the president said.

While environmentalists predicted the bans would be reinstated in the next Congress, the National Taxpayers Union was pleased with the opportunity to develop more domestic energy supplies.

"The Democrats' concession on offshore drilling and oil shale leasing bans will allow development of our country's vast energy resources and - most importantly - will provide American consumers with some much-needed price relief in the future," said National Taxpayers Union Government Affairs Manager Andrew Moylan.

"Congress's decision not to extend the ban will make available more than 86 billion barrels of oil offshore and, potentially, as much as 800 billion barrels of shale oil. While these resources won't be accessed overnight, the promise of increased supply in the future will help calm volatile markets," he said.

Oil production platform 60 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico (Photo credit unknown)

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope said, "This is not the last we will see of the moratorium that has protected our coasts since 1981. The drilling ban could very well be restored by a new Congress and president who understand that more offshore drilling will do nothing to lower gas prices or solve our energy crisis."

Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma called the expiration of these moratoria "a victory for the American people and our goal of energy security."

"America is finally able to utilize its plentiful domestic natural resources to help address high gas prices at the pump," Inhofe said today. "A vast majority of Americans now support offshore drilling and greater use of domestic energy resources. Republicans have consistently proposed measures to address high gasoline prices by increasing our domestic production."

The Outer Continental Shelf holds at least 19 billion barrels of recoverable oil. These enormous reserves are equivalent to 35 years' worth of oil imports from Saudi Arabia," the senator said.

In addition, up to 1.1 trillion barrels of oil are estimated to be recoverable from oil shale and at prices as low as $35 to $48 dollars per barrel, within the first 12 years of commercial scale production, he said. At current rates of consumption, Inhofe estimates that 1.1 trillion barrels equals more than 145 years of domestic supply.

But environmental groups concerned about the climate change impact of burning more oil and gas are opposed to offshore oil and gas leasing and oil shale development.

"The lifting of the ban on drilling for oil and oil shale doesn't mean the end of the fight for clean energy, which Big Oil and its allies have exploited for their own gain," said Frances Beinecke, president of Natural Resources Defense Council. "We look to the next Congress and a new president to reverse course and deliver a clean, homegrown energy future."

Allowing the ban on offshore drilling to expire lets oil companies drill as close as three miles off shore, putting our food supply, oceans and coastal economies at risk, Beinecke warns.

She points out that offshore drilling and production create huge quantities of waste that contain toxic and radioactive pollutants, which can contaminate fish and marine life.

Also, between 1981 and 2005, there were 187 large oil spills as a result of offshore drilling, she observes.

"The gains from expanded offshore drilling are minimal," says Beinecke. "Only three percent of the world’s reserves are off our coasts, yet we consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. And offshore drilling won’t produce results for 10 years. Even then it will be a matter of cents saved; not dollars."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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