Offshore Drilling Ban Will Expire, but Hurdles Remain
Nicolas Loris /
House Democrats finally announced they will let the Congressional ban on offshore drilling expire on October first. Time to DBD, (drill, baby, drill) right? After all, the amount of oil offshore is equivalent to 30 years worth of imports from Saudi Arabia and there’s enough natural gas to power America’s homes for 17 years.
Not so fast. Yes, this is an important victory and one that should be celebrated. But it’s like getting to the World Series; you battle all season long and it’s an accomplishment to get to the World Series, but there’s more to go.
Offshore drilling may have beat House Democrats but they face an even tougher test in the next round: Environmental Litigation. Those environmental radical groups are like the New York Yankees (well, maybe not this year). They have a proven history of success, they are tough to beat and they are unpopular except within their own community.
Let’s take a look at the environmentalists’ proven history of feistiness and success:
1. The Chukchi Sea, an area off the coast of Alaska with estimated 15 billion barrels of oil and 77 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Interior Department. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and environmental groups challenged all 487 leases in the Chukchi Sea before they were even issued.
2. The Beaufort Sea, also off the coast of Alaska. After Shell Exploration & Production Co. spent more than $80 million for offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea and the U.S. Mineral Management Service approved 12 leases, environmental radicals sued and obtained a court order ceasing drilling activity in April 2007. In total, environmental groups have challenged every single one of the 787 leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
3. The same group of environmentalists challenged the whole five-year OCS leasing schedule from 2007-2012. The lawsuit, which challenges all existing and future leases, is still pending when we could have been developing these lands.
4. These next two points come directly from Heritage senior policy analyst Ben Lieberman’s recent op-ed. A lease sale was recently held in New Mexico involving 78 parcels. Environmentalists immediately protested all 78. These protests are one of the first, but by no means the last step that green groups can take to try to stop oil and natural gas production.
5. Energy production in northwestern Colorado was shut down, thanks to activists exploiting the nearly impossible paperwork requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This time, it’s the black-footed ferret, but more than 1,000 other listed species means many leases are in or near the potential habitat for at least one of them. Whether shutting down a significant part of Colorado’s energy production really benefits the ferrets is an open question, but useful or not, such shutdowns are common. And the ESA is only one of many tools in the anti-energy activists’ arsenal.
Senator Jim DeMint (R-South Carolina) said:
Now it is time to ensure drilling is expedited and prevent liberals from tying energy production up in endless litigation.”
What good is making all these areas available if they are so burdened with red tape that it would be years before companies can even begin the process of extracting these valuable resources? Senator DeMint has taken the next step forward by announcing new legislation and releasing a letter to Senate Democrat Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) urging him to allow consideration of his proposal that will expedite drilling leases, ensure states share in energy revenues, and prevent endless litigation from frivolous environmental lawsuits.
And just like in baseball, even if you do win it all, there’s always another season. Sure enough, Congress and our next president will bring this issue back to the table in 2009. Senator Harry Reid has already said, “We look forward to working with the next president to hammer out a final resolution of this issue.” Now what do you think that means?
Rep. David R. Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the Appropriations Committee, straightforwardly said:
This next election will decide what our drilling policy is going to be.”