The Obama Drilling Game

The Obama administration’s Interior Department recently released plans to allow offshore oil exploration and drilling off the eastern coast of the United States from Virginia to Florida.  In the states affected- Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia-, there is generally wide bipartisan support.  The opposition is coming from the environmental Left, Democrats in Congress, and some misinformed interest groups.  However, we need to look at this proposal for what it truly is- a ruse.

Some studies have indicated that potential economic benefits outweigh the potential environmental concerns.  In my neck of the woods here in New Jersey, there is general opposition to the proposal fearing that any spill would adversely affect the coastline.  It is certainly true that the ocean knows no boundaries and spills south of Virginia would be carried north.  And states along the East Coast certainly benefit from the tourism industry from Cape Cod to the Florida Keys.

Naturally, the Left believes that the oil and gas industry has climbed in bed with Governors like Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, Pat McCrory in North Carolina and Nikki Haley in South Carolina.  And as part of that meme, they trot out the campaign finance figures and then utilize a quantum leap in logic and berate the Citizens United decision.  This is a rogue argument that strays far off the beaten path of logical thought.

Before we rush to these conspiracy theories of politicians and Big Oil engaging in some incestuous relationship, we need to look at the facts.  The first fact is that there is an estimated 4.72 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the proposed area.  That is one-tenth the estimated amount in the Gulf of Mexico (48.4 billion barrels).  It is also one-fifth the estimated amount located in Alaska.

Secondly, we are unsure of the exact amounts of recoverable oil and natural gas for two reasons.  The first is that seismic studies to locate possible reserves in these areas were last performed over 30 years ago.  Second, the technology to recover that oil has grown by leaps and bounds since that time.  What we may have thought was 4.72 billion barrels may actually be more, or it may actually be less.  We just don’t know for sure at this time without further exploration.  This is not an overnight process and could take years.  Hence, the environmental Left is protesting something that may happen in the future.

Third, with decreased crude prices worldwide, it may not be economically feasible to do anything right now.  Of course, exploration studies should proceed to determine what exactly is out there and where.  Somehow I think the environmental left would simply change the focus of protest arguing that seismic testing would disrupt whale migratory habits, or their ears (I don’t know…do whales have ears?).

And fourth, it seems strange that the Interior Department would announce this policy soon after Obama declared ANWR- a vast region that is known to have larger reserves- simply off limits with a stroke of the pen.  And that is the crux of this ruse.  It has nothing to do with some Obama faux “all of the above” solution to energy independence, Big Oil buying off politicians with campaign donations, or any of the other suggested theories floating out there.  Obama is immediately satisfying his environmental Left while simply putting off the Right by making it look like he is doing something.  It is fake bipartisanship.

Just look at the areas that are being opened to exploration and possible leasing and, more importantly, what is not included.  There are more known reserves of oil and natural gas in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Alaska and the coastal plain, and off the West Coast.  His reasoning for not approving drilling off the West Coast is that those states traditionally oppose drilling.  In the Gulf, his excuse is environmental studies and given his handling of the Deepwater Horizon accident, he is simply scared.  In Alaska, it is that some land is simply too important and pristine to run the risk.  In effect, Obama is offering us a possible 4.8 billion barrels of possibly recoverable oil while restricting access to over 75 billion barrels of known oil, and God knows how many cubic feet of natural gas.

Additionally, it makes no intuitive sense that a president who views climate change as a greater threat to our national security than terrorism would truly support further fossil fuel exploration and extraction.  After all, his EPA is trying to all but kill the coal industry in the United States in the name of climate change.

So, what is the solution?  If there is truly is this “all of the above” policy, then all of the above should be embraced without reservations.  It is funny how the environmental Left pushes renewable energy like wind as long as it is not in their backyards, or as long as it does not obstruct their view of the ocean off Cape Cod or New Jersey.  If we really had an “all of the above” energy policy, we would streamline the regulatory process for bringing more nuclear plants on-line and either recycling waste or burying it in Yucca Mountain.  If we were truly serious about this, we would not be killing the coal industry and potentially putting 150,000 people out of work when we have enough coal reserves to last us at least 30 years.  Does he honestly believe China and India are going to cease using coal?

In the interim, Congress needs to see this action for what it is: a transparent ruse to appease some people in words while satisfying his environmental base with action.  It is an obvious political move that some have called “shrewd,” but one that no more brings this country to energy independence than doing nothing.