Offshore Drilling – It’s NOT the Answer to High Gas Prices at the Pump

Feature story - August 4, 2008
Record high gas prices have been making the news headlines for the past few months. Each week gas prices top the previous week, resulting in a new all-time high. Unless you are fortunate enough to live, work and play within walking distance from your home, you have been affected by these high gas prices like the rest of the nation. While the public continues to be outraged about gas prices, some politicians (McCain, Bush, and Gingrich) are taking advantage of the dire situation by organizing a push to drill for oil along our coastlines and lift a 27-year moratorium.

But, if you scratch below the surface of their "drill now pay less" rhetoric, you'll learn that the only people who stand to benefit from offshore oil drilling would be their friends in big oil. Exxon Mobil and the other oil major oil companies are already bringing in record profits due to high gas prices, more drilling would mean they'd make even more money, while the public would not see any change in gas prices.

Gas Prices - Fact vs. Fiction

The United States burns 24 percent of the world's oil, yet we only have 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. Even if we drilled every drop of oil the U.S. has on shore or off its coasts, we will never be able to drill our way to lower oil prices or energy security. We simply burn more than we could ever drill.

Offshore oil drilling is not a short-term fix. It would take at least a decade to bring new leases into production. And, it will be years before exploration could begin and years after that before production would start. If any effect were to be felt on gas prices (most likely only a few pennies per gallon), that effect is decades away.

Offering up more of our coastline for drilling won't lower gas prices. Since President Bush took office in 2000, the number of wells in federally leased areas has increased exponentially, yet gas prices have doubled during that same time. Yet, this type of evidence is never mentioned in the media or by proponents for offshore drilling.

Another reason that drilling for more oil in the U.S. won't result in lower gas prices is because oil prices are set on the global oil market. What this means is that all oil produced around the world is sold all at the same price. There is no guarantee that we would even be using the oil that was drilled here in the U.S. And, we certainly wouldn't get a discount just because we drilled for it on U.S. soil. We would pay the same rate as the rest of the world.

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Oil Spills-Deadly Consequences

In 1981, responding to public sentiment, Congress adopted the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Moratorium, which prevents the leasing of coastal waters off the Atlantic and pacific coasts and Alaska's Bristol Bay for oil and gas drilling.

If the moratorium is lifted, our oceans and the species that call them home will suffer. An increase in offshore drilling will put more of this country's beaches, fish, and marine mammals at risk, as both the exploration and the drilling for oil increase the threat to our valuable coastlines. Tourism along our beaches and coastal communities is vital to our economy.

Seismic testing to locate oil creates decibel levels of 260 - twice as loud as an ambulance. Exposure to these levels of noise can cause disorientation, beaching, and brain hemorrhaging in whales and dolphins. Drilling for oil results in routine releases of toxic drilling muds, excavation materials, production waters, and contaminants such as mercury lead, cadmium and radioactive substances such as radium. Offshore oil drilling also comes with tanker, boat and barge traffic and other industrial activity and noise that disturb wildlife. And all offshore oil drilling requires an onshore network of pipelines, roads, refineries, docks and other infrastructure that release pollutants into the air and water, as well as destroy coastal habitat.

Plus, offshore drilling creates an increased risk of oil spills close to our beaches and coastlines. One of the biggest myths told by political candidates (the oil industry and their allies in Congress) is that hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused no significant oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico. Nothing could be further from the truth. Katrina and Rita trashed drilling platforms, ruptured pipelines and yanked 2-million-gallon storage tanks off their foundations. More than 9 million gallons of oil spilled as a result of those two storms. Compare that amount with the 11 million gallons of oil spilled by the infamous Exxon Valdez when it ran aground in Prince William Sound Alaska in 1989. The Minerals Management Service (MMS), the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling, reported that hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed 113 oil platforms and damaged 457 pipelines.

Supercharged storms like Katrina and Rita will continue to pummel coastal areas and oil infrastructure as global warming continues, meaning more oil spills are inevitable.

Real Solutions

Drilling for more oil is not the answer. If we are to truly gain energy independence we have to start tapping into our future by investing and developing renewable energy sources. We also have to conserve energy and cut back where we can to reduce our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels.

By requiring all automobiles in the U.S. to achieve 35 mpg by 2020 we will save 1 million barrels of oil per day-far more than we will get from new offshore oil leases being proposed by President Bush.

Wind power is the world's fastest growing energy source. Today, a wind farm can generate the same amount of power as some conventional power plants, but they don't dump mercury, sulfur dioxide, and global warming pollution into the air. And while wind power is still growing here in the U.S., Denmark received 22 percent of its electricity from wind in 2007. Every 30 minutes, the sun sends more energy to our planet than is consumed in a whole year. In fact, the energy generated by the sun in just 20 days is equal to the energy of all the coal, oil, and natural gas buried underground. And just like wind power, solar energy is already being harnessed in many parts of the world.

Now isn't the time for following leaders who promise quick fixes to high gas prices. It's the time to end our dependence on oil and fossil fuels and begin a meaningful transition toward a future where we utilize renewable energy sources that will be able to sustain generations to come.

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