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A Year Later And Still No Offshore Drilling

October 2, 2009

A Year Later And Still No Offshore Drilling

By THOMAS J. PYLE

IBD: 1 Oct. 2009

On Thursday, Americans will mark the first anniversary of perhaps the most historic change in our nation’s energy policy — a change supported by the vast majority of the American people — that came in the form of the Oct. 1, 2008, retirement of the congressional embargo on offshore energy exploration and production.

This oil embargo, first imposed by Congress in 1981 as a rider on the Interior Department appropriations bill, was the official policy of the United States for nearly three decades, even as oil imports soared.

Many Americans will never forget the summer of 2008: $4 gasoline, crude oil trading at $150 per barrel and an economy that was in the midst of a recession. This made Americans angry enough to rise up and demand action from their elected leaders in Washington.

Crude Is Waiting

Unfortunately, a full year after that moratorium was retired, American consumers find themselves no closer to accessing these abundant, homegrown energy resources than they were last summer. And they have no one but their government to thank.

Not only have the American people not seen those events translate into real, forward-leaning progress on this critical issue, they’ve actually witnessed new obstacles erected over the past year that have even further separated themselves and their families from the energy that rightfully belongs to them.

Take, for example, the actions of the Department of the Interior — the federal agency tasked with managing energy resources on federal lands and waters.

Shortly after taking office, Secretary Ken Salazar announced that a new offshore energy plan — written in the months after Congress allowed the offshore ban to expire — would have to wait an additional six months before the Interior Department would even consider it.

Those six months ended last week, and Secretary Salazar has since told reporters that he may not advance any new plan until 2012, effectively turning his six-month delay into a three-year de facto.

Which begs the question: Was the decision to lift the decades-old ban on offshore exploration truly a response to the will of American people? Or was it merely an election-year gesture?

While the answer to that question remains unanswered, we do know that the federal government in 2008 generated over $10 billion in bonus bids from energy leasing. In comparison, since Salazar has taken office, the Interior Department has collected $875 million — or 8.6% of what was collected in 2008.

Locked Away

This is money the government could have generated, rather than the billions we’ve borrowed from other countries. And energy we use could be energy we produce here, not purchased from others.

In short, it makes zero economic sense to keep these vast resources under lock and key.

Due to a policy that appears to be based on opposition to affordable energy, the United States remains the only industrialized nation in the world that views its offshore energy resources as a liability and not the asset that they are.

The policy changes Americans thought they demanded last year have not come to pass. The United States needs to end its embargo against its own oil and natural gas supplies — both in policy, and in practice.

• Pyle is president of the Institute for Energy Research, a free-market energy think tank with offices in Houston and Washington, D.C.

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