Congress Allows Offshore Drilling Moratorium to Expire After 26 Years

Thomas Schueneman

Amid the turmoil and paralysis in Washington as Congress attempts to deal with the ongoing economic crisis on Wall St. (for which, on a personal note, I simply fail to understand how it ever got to this point in the first place), another failure of leadership slipped quietly by yesterday as the 26–year-old moratorium on offshore drilling expired.

Congress allows offshore drilling moratorium to expire

The reactions to the expired moratorium reflect the contentiousness the issue has spawned in the past weeks and months as oil prices soared, nearing $150 a barrel over the summer (as of this writing, a barrel of oil is hovering around $100).

Lee Dye, in his op-ed piece Will Offshore Oil Drilling Help on the ABC News website, says that the moratorium was “doomed by two powerful myths”:

It was doomed by two powerful myths. It was sold to the people as one way to bring down prices at the gas pump. But it won't. And it has been described repeatedly as moving us closer to energy independence. But it won't. And it's just one more step in the wrong direction.”

And from there the debate ensues. Some agree wholeheartedly with Dye’s assessment, others think it is hopelessly naive (or worse) and that he fails to understand the economics involved.

As with the climate change “debate” in general, it is hard to keep ones head above water when wading into this argument. People hold close to their cherished factoids and opinions about what offshore drilling means for our future.

What seems clear to me is that offshore drilling will likely move forward in some fashion, and that it will make little long-term difference to our “energy independence” or the cost of energy. The age of fossil fuel will come to an end, and the best we can do is kick the can down the road, as is our preferred method of dealing with problems, as we can see all around us.

If there is a necessity to allow limited offshore drilling for no other reason than to calm the emotions of people facing the prospect of actually having to conserve energy and pay a price for energy more in line with its true cost, then so be it. Drilling offshore isn’t expected to truly solve either of those problems, but if it means we can finally get the leadership in Washington to start paving the way for the new energy economy, then do it, allow limited offshore drilling.

I’ve come to expect little from George Bush over the years. But the abject failure of Congress to get anything done, to thus far allow renewable energy tax credits to expire at the end of the year and to let slip a 26–year-old moratorium on offshore drilling meant to protect our already beleaguered coasts and oceans, is a tragedy that leaves me heartsick. 

After the grandstanding from presidential candidates “suspending their campaigns” to “save the economy” and the high-stakes drama in Washington is long past, we’ll all be stuck holding the bag, as will our children and their children, from the lack of vision and leadership we witness in Washington today.

Press statements on the expired moratorium:

…a victory for the American people and our goal of energy security”
Republican Senator from Oklahoma, James Inhofe

This Act lifts the legislative moratoria on oil and gas leasing on significant portions of the Outer Continental Shelf and the prohibition on the completion of regulations for commercial leasing of oil shale, which will allow us to reduce our dependence on foreign oil."
President George Bush

This is not the last we will see of the moratorium that has protected our coasts since 1981. The drilling ban could very well be restored by a new Congress and president who understand that more offshore drilling will do nothing to lower gas prices or solve our energy crisis."
Sierra Club President Carl Pope

The lifting of the ban on drilling for oil and oil shale doesn't mean the end of the fight for clean energy, which Big Oil and its allies have exploited for their own gain," said Frances Beinecke, president of Natural Resources Defense Council. "We look to the next Congress and a new president to reverse course and deliver a clean, homegrown energy future. The gains from expanded offshore drilling are minimal," says Beinecke. "Only three percent of the world’s reserves are off our coasts, yet we consume 25 percent of the world’s oil. And offshore drilling won’t produce results for 10 years. Even then it will be a matter of cents saved; not dollars."
Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke

Tags: offshore+drilling, offshore+drilling+moratorium


Energy & Economics