Drilling is Not the Answer: Save Oil FASTER with Realistic Car Fuel Economy Standards

Earlier today, President Bush announced the lifting of an Executive Branch ban on drilling in protected areas off our coasts. In an accompanying White House document, the Administration acknowledged that drilling will take a long time to produce any oil; in fact, even if Congress lifted the moratorium today, it would be about a decade before crude would start to flow. On the other hand, setting realistic fuel economy standards for our cars and trucks would save more oil faster than we could drill from the new areas of the Outer Continental Shelf.

According to the Department of Energy’s analysis, at peak production in 2025 the offshore areas currently under the moratorium could produce about 220,000 barrels per day. Compare that to saving over 300,000 barrels per day starting five years earlier in 2020. The 300,000 barrels per day savings come from instituting new vehicle fuel economy standards of 35 miles per gallon for model year 2015 instead of model year 2020.

When Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, it required that new vehicle fuel economy reach at least 35 mpg by 2020. Between now and 2020, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is charged with setting “maximum feasible” efficiency levels. However, as I discussed here, the agency failed in its first attempt to set standards up to model year 2015. Their primary mistake was to assume an unrealistically low gasoline price forecast, which reached only $2.42/gallon in 2016. As part of their analysis, NHTSA modeled a higher—but still unreasonably low—price forecast that reached $3.14/gallon in 2016; in this scenario the agency demonstrated that the new vehicle fleet could reach an average of 35 mpg starting in model year 2015 using existing, cost-effective technologies.

I compared the oil savings achieved with a standard that reaches 35 mpg in 2015 vs. 2020 and found over 300,000 barrels per day would be saved with the earlier implementation. Simple, right? Just use realistic price assumptions and the Administration can save drivers money at the pump long before drilling produces a drop.

And that’s just the beginning. As described here, efficiency and other clean energy oil savings easily trump drilling production beyond 2020. Clean energy solutions are simply the best way to provide lasting relief to American consumers.

About the Authors

Luke Tonachel

Director, Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project, Energy & Transportation program

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