Just over one year ago, a barrel of oil had spiked to $147 and Mississippians were paying $4 for a gallon of gasoline. In response to the hardship created by these record prices, Congress and then-President Bush ended a decades-long ban on oil and gas drilling off America’s coasts.
Lifting this ban was just the beginning of a long regulatory process that must run its course before additional offshore drilling can begin. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has effectively continued the ban by stalling the regulatory approval process. This foot-dragging needs to stop. Our country must continue moving forward with a plan to tap our domestic oil and gas reserves in order to secure our energy future and create hundreds of thousands of new American jobs.
To help keep pressure on President Obama to act, I recently joined a bipartisan group of 35 senators, including my colleague Thad Cochran, in writing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to ask that his department move forward with a draft five-year offshore drilling plan the Bush administration initiated last year.
The draft plan would greatly enhance our ability to produce American energy by allowing for additional exploration off both coasts and in the Gulf of Mexico, including the area that covers Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. Public support for this proposal is strong. Eighty-five percent of comments received by the federal government from citizens of these three states were in support of the plan.
When the facts are examined, it is hard to argue against the benefits of oil and gas drilling off our nation’s coasts. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that fossil fuels will continue to meet at least 80 percent of energy demand both in the U.S. and globally through 2030. Our government also estimates that America’s taxpayer-owned offshore lands contain 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. These oil and gas reserves should be enough to power more than 65 million cars for the next six decades and heat 60 million homes for 160 years.
The economic impact of this plan must not be overlooked, particularly at a time when unemployment in our country is at levels not seen in 25 years and budget deficits are at record levels. A recent study performed by the American Energy Alliance found that allowing production of our offshore oil and gas reserves would create 1.2 million new jobs and would spur $8 trillion in additional economic output.
All of these benefits can be realized by utilizing new technology that will help protect our environment and ocean-side communities. Advanced technologies allow for more accurate targeting that results in less drilling and fewer accidents. The Interior Department has said that offshore operators produced 7 billion barrels of oil from 1985 to 2001 with a spill rate of only .001 percent. According to the National Academy of Sciences, 62 percent of oil found in the marine environment is the result of natural seeps through the ocean floor, while less than one percent comes from oil and gas development.
The Obama administration has acknowledged the benefits of increased offshore energy exploration – just not in our country. It was reported in August that the administration plans to lend billions of dollars to Brazil’s state-owned oil company to finance exploration of a huge offshore oil discovery near Rio de Janeiro. Then, in September, Vice President Biden traveled to Iraq where he urged the government there to increase oil production because of the great potential for additional revenue and jobs that would help their country.
It is time for the Obama administration to practice what it preaches. It is wrong to support increased energy exploration elsewhere in the world while taking action to delay it here. Now is the time to increase oil and gas drilling on our taxpayer-owned lands so we can secure our country’s energy future and create quality American jobs. The president has the authority to move this process along and should take action to do so quickly.