If you go to Idaho Sen. Larry Craig’s Web site and log onto his energy section, http://craig.senate.gov/fp.htm?/i_energy.htm, up pops a striking map of America’s coastline with a thick red ring around it. The ring symbolizes the 85 percent of our coastal waters where Congress has banned oil and natural gas drilling.
There are a few breaks in the red ring. For example, in the Gulf of Mexico off Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, on Alaska’s North Slope in Prudhoe Bay and in the Santa Barbara Channel off the Southern California coastline, offshore fields are safely producing oil and natural gas.
Craig, a prominent member of the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, points out that America is shooting itself in the foot by banning offshore oil and gas drilling because other countries are aggressively developing their offshore energy fields and, in the case of the Chinese, are planning to tap into our reserves.
While U.S. politicians argue over whether to tap our deep-water energy sources, Cuba is going ahead full steam, leasing its fields in the Florida Straits. In fact, Chinese oil drilling rigs are already appearing within 50 miles of Key West.
The Chinese are planning to slant drill in the Straits, allowing them to tap into U.S. oil reserves that are estimated at a minimum of 4.6 billion barrels and could reach 9.3 billion. This is the same amount of crude thought to be beneath the Alaska’s ANWR, which Congress continues to place off limits, as well.
Not only has Congress had its head in the sand with the moratoriums on leasing, it’s twiddling its thumbs while other countries prepare to steal our oil. To top it off, our federal policy even prevents American companies from bidding for these leases in Cuba, which would allow us to tap into our own reserves from a distance.
Ironically, lawmakers who say the United States must ban offshore drilling to protect the marine environment have ceded the field to countries like China, one of the biggest polluters on the planet. In contrast, American drilling platforms off California and the Gulf Coast survived two major hurricanes last year as well as a number of earthquakes without a major ecological catastrophe. Do we really think Chinese rigs will perform as well?
Some of the very politicians who grandstand about our nation’s need to be energy independent are the same ones who are blocking any future development of safer and cleaner traditional energy sources such as oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear.
On the other hand, Craig rightly points out that China is locking up oil supplies around the world. Demand for oil in China is expected to double in the next 20 years to 14.2 million barrels a day. Chinese leaders know that if they are going to sustain their growth, provide jobs for their people and raise their standard of living, they must act now to secure their energy future.
Not only is China cutting deals with Cuba, but with Canada and Iran, as well. China is helping to finance a $2.5 billion Canadian oil pipeline that will supply the Chinese with 200,000 barrels of crude oil each day when completed. In addition, China is developing Iran’s Yadavaran oil field, which is projected to produce 300,000 barrels a day.
So while our foreign competitors move to secure their future, America is stuck in the quicksand, slowly sinking. As Craig points out, America must now import 60 percent of its oil – about five billion barrels each year. That gap is widening and the energy noose is tightening around our country’s neck.
Both the Senate and the House have passed bills to slightly loosen America’s energy noose by reopening exploration in some areas. The House bill would lift the ban entirely, while the Senate bill is more limited, opening only two areas in the Gulf of Mexico. Still, those areas have enough oil and gas to heat six million homes for 15 years. Efforts to reconcile those bills begin this month.
To gain the support of Florida’s senators, the Senate bill bans drilling within 125 miles of Florida’s coastline, and in some areas the leases would be more than 230 miles from the state’s beaches. Ironically, the Chinese are erecting 12 drilling platforms in Cuban waters within a stone’s throw of those same beaches.
Hopefully, Congress will approve an offshore drilling bill soon and send it to the president’s desk for his signature. Otherwise, that red ring around America that bans offshore energy exportation will symbolize our nation’s poor judgment in putting a stranglehold on our energy future.
Don C. Brunell is president of the Association of Washington Business.