Meh, baby, meh

31 Mar 2010 08:08 pm
Posted by: Donna

President Obama’s announcement this morning that he would allow offshore drilling was bound to tick off environmentalists and renewable energy proponents, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected and was more about politics and symbolism than policy. Wingnuts across the country are atingle with excitement at the prospect of big oil rigs dotting commie elitist East Coast shorelines. Even my own assiduous troll Alan Scott offered faint praise for “our first African American President” for taking a position pleasing to him and Sarah Palin.

Back in the 2008 election season when Drill Baby Drill was a McCain/Palin soundbyte and a point of energy policy debate between the candidates, I quickly educated myself on the issue and found, not to my surprise, that offshore drilling holds about as much promise of solving our energy problems as tort reform does of substantially reducing health care costs. It’s less substantive than tort reform, really, since capping malpractice awards could conceivably reduce insurance premiums by 1/2 of a percent.


In the run-up to the election, this is the first in a short series of brief fact-checking exercises regarding the major energy issues in the campaign.

Senators McCain and Obama have expressed support for increased offshore oil drilling as part of their respective plans for energy. Senator McCain specifically suggests that opening offshore waters in the U.S. to oil exploration will (a) significantly increase domestic production, and (2) put downward pressure on oil prices.

Is this true? The short answer is no.

The federal government controls access to the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which refers to the submerged lands under the ocean farther than about 3.3 miles from the coast (about 10 miles from Texas and the Gulf coast of Florida). Land closer than that is under state jurisdiction; land beyond about 230 miles is in international water. Beginning in 1982, Congress passed and has subsequently renewed moratoria on the leasing of federal land off the coast of all states except Texas, Louisiana and parts of Alaska. All existing moratoria on leasing in the OCS will expire in 2012. Debate now centers on whether or not to renew the moratoria.

The Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the U.S. Department of Interior estimates that there are about 86 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil in the federal Outer Continental Shelf; the Lower 48 OCS accounts for about 59 billion barrels. By way of comparison, U.S proved reserves of oil are about 21 billion barrels…

Let’s also remember that the US oil industry is not about to be nationalized anytime soon. There’s nothing requiring that the oil extracted from offshore drilling must be sold domestically. Oil is a global commodity and if the Chinese or Indians want to buy what we drill here, then that’s where it will go. Any effect on the global price of oil from adding our drop in the bucket will be negligible and the idea that offshore drilling will contribute anything whatsoever to achieving energy independence is laughable.


  1. Comment by Timmys Cat on April 1, 2010 9:50 am

    Thus, lifting the ban on offshore drilling will not significantly increase domestic production, nor will it put downward pressure on oil prices.

    Pure politcal smoke and mirrors. Keeps the Goopers on their heels
    While I realize Obama has a few things on his plate, it’s time to address the oil addiction and take a look at solar. How many years and millions of dollars would it take to start an offshore oil well with a limited life? How’s about investing in an unlimited supply of energy?

  2. Comment by Alan Scott on April 1, 2010 2:32 pm


    The real world knowledge which you and Timmey’s Cat bring to bear on the energy question is staggering . But I told myself that the next time I posted on your board I would be nice . So I totally agree with your statement that offshore drilling to President Obama” was more about politics and symbolism than policy. “

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