Why World Energy Ministers Went to Jidda, Not Pensacola

Over the weekend, Crown Prince Abdullah, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and energy ministers from around the world gathered in Jidda, Saudi Arabia in a desperate effort to tackle the worst energy crisis we have seen in decades. They did not meet in the Florida Panhandle, the North Atlantic, or any other potential offshore drilling venue. Why not? Because the global price of oil will never rise or fall based on America’s offshore wells. 

I Have Seen This Before

We have been down this road before. One of my first jobs at NRDC was to help coastal communities balance growth with protections for marine life. But I was tasked with doing this work in the 1970s, when the last oil crisis sparked a call to open the whole North Atlantic to oil and gas leasing.

The destruction wrought by oil spills shocked the public into supporting one of the most successful environmental efforts in recent history: the offshore moratorium on drilling. For 27 years, it has enjoyed genuine bipartisan and public support.

If Saudi Arabia Can’t Do It, We Can’t

President Bush wants to destroy that consensus. He would like us to believe that if we break the moratorium on offshore drilling and add more oil production to our portfolio, the price of gasoline will go down. Yet that is something that not even Crown Prince Abdullah could not accomplish, and he has been at the oil business longer than Bush.

In Jidda this weekend, the big oil-consuming nations pressured Saudi Arabia--the only nation in the world that can increase production rapidly--to add more oil to the market. Abdullah agreed, but what impact did it have prices? Oil was up $2.34 to $137.70 a barrel by Monday.

DOE Says Offshore Wells Won’t Impact Price

Essentially all Saudi Arabia has to do to increase production is flip a switch. Here in the United States:


  • It will take seven to ten years of construction and drilling before offshore oil will arrive in refineries.
  • The U.S. Department of Energy’s own Energy Information Agency says “access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.”

But President Bush isn’t listening to what the AIE, the analysts, or the global markets are telling him. Instead, he is using a hallmark of his administration: manipulating Americans’ fears with dubious facts. This has led us down some very destructive paths.  

But now we know better than to believe the administration’s sunny predictions and sketchy figures. There are no quick fixes to the oil crisis. Just like there was no “smoking gun” or “mission accomplished.”

The Real Way to Drive Down Gas Prices

But we do have forward-looking solutions that can get us off the gas-price rollercoaster, things like plug-in hybrids, better designed cities where we do not have to drive as much, and sustainable transportation fuels like cellulosic biofuels. Not only will these solutions make us less beholden to oil interests, but they will usher in a cleaner, more sustainable energy future for America.