We Can’t Drill To Lower Fuel Prices

Yesterday, I wrote a post about the need to limit opening additional federal lands to offshore drilling. Two comments got me thinking, and made me want to expand upon my thoughts here.

One commenter named Wayne said, “What this country needs is leadership and a multi-facted approach to solve our problems which involves oil drilling in the USA.” I agree with the need for leadership, Wayne – that’s why we at NRDC have worked for decades on energy issues, and why we’re now advocating a national energy plan that engages multiple sectors of the economy.

But President Bush’s proposal is not an example of leadership. The message that fuel prices are high because oil companies don’t have enough land is false, and won’t provide relief to the American people. We simply can’t drill our way to lower prices. We have to seek other, more energy efficient alternatives. This is the fastest, and cheapest way to lower fuel prices and combat climate change.

And yet, many members of Congress are now lining up to push for a repeal of the ban on opening more federal lands to offshore drilling. As the two comments, and other articles on the web illustrate, there’s substantive debate on this issue.

And so why do I oppose opening additional, ecologically sensitive areas to offshore drilling?

Consider that companies already have more than enough resources available to them. Between 1999 and 2007, the number of drilling permits issued for development of public lands increased by more than 361%. In the last four years, the BLM has issued 10,000 more permits than have been used. That means the oil and gas companies are actually stockpiling extra permits, and that these companies hold leases to nearly 68 million acres that are not in production.

This is particularly true for offshore areas. On the outer continental shelf, there are 7,740 active leases and only 1,655 in production. Only 10.5 million of the 44 million offshore leased acres are currently producing oil or gas. Moreover, four times more natural gas is contained within the waters already open to drilling than in those protected by the ban.

We should not give these companies more land when they already have more land than they can use.

Even if we did open the ecologically sensitive areas currently under a moratorium, it wouldn’t lower fuel prices. In the past two years, domestic oil and gas production has outpaced domestic consumption fourfold. In the mean time, fuel prices have soared. If you look to the UK, to Norway, Germany and Japan – all countries that promote offshore drilling – you’ll see their prices are much higher.

I’m not alone in saying this. Click here for a great report on the topic, released by the House Committee on Natural Resources this June. The Energy Information Administration, the independent statistical agency within the U.S. Department of Energy, says drilling offshore won’t help prices. And yesterday, in an editorial entitled “The Big Pander to Big Oil,” The New York Times described opening additional areas to offshore drilling by saying:

“This is worse than a dumb idea. It is cruelly misleading. It will make only a modest difference, at best, to prices at the pump, and even then the benefits will be years away. It greatly exaggerates America’s leverage over world oil prices. It is based on dubious statistics. It diverts the public from the tough decisions that need to be made about conservation.”

We can’t drill our way to lower fuel prices. As I’ve said before, efficiency is the fastest, and cheapest, way to lower fuel costs and combat global warming.

I have a lot to say on the topic of how efficiency can help meet our national energy goals. I’ll expand on that in another post soon.