Many people seem unaware that the United States is the third-largest oil producer in the world. What we do -- or fail to do -- affects not only our own country but also the global energy marketplace. Regrettably, we are one of the few countries in the world whose government restricts access to its domestic energy resources. As a result, we depend on imports for 60 percent of the oil -- and an increasing amount of natural gas -- we use. The huge transfer of American wealth, especially to hostile, oil-exporting countries, does not bode well for the U.S. economy, and it must stop. Not surprisingly, polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor opening up U.S. offshore areas.
... The U.S. Minerals Management Service estimates that 14.3 billion barrels of oil and 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie beneath the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelf, with an additional 3.7 billion barrels of oil and 21.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the eastern Gulf. But the actual amounts could turn out to be much higher if companies are given the opportunity to begin exploratory work using state-of-the-art technologies, such as three-dimensional seismic imaging, that were not available when the previous resource estimates were made more than two decades ago.
Modern seismic work played a central role in the discovery two years ago of an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil beneath the ultra-deep waters of the central Gulf, and this could happen again in untapped offshore areas.
... With the nation's economy in serious trouble, Congress needs to spur domestic energy production. Toward that end, it needs to open up the Eastern Gulf to oil and natural gas production and ensure that the moratorium on offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific is not re-imposed. Additionally, Congress should approve legislation to eliminate unnecessary delays in government leasing of offshore areas, ensure that states share in offshore revenues, and prevent frivolous litigation that has impeded energy development both offshore and on land.
An encouraging sign of progress was the Interior Department's recent announcement that it was going ahead with the first step of a process to allow energy companies to explore 50 miles off the Virginia coast, an area that had been closed until the moratorium expired in September. By tapping resources in the Atlantic, we would have another source of Outer Continental Shelf oil and natural gas as hurricanes blow through the Gulf.
... , the recent action to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling is a huge first step toward a more rational energy policy, but as in the quest for any goal, it takes more than one step. Congress needs to reject any attempt to re-impose the ban. The best way to accomplish that is to open up the entire Outer Continental Shelf to oil and natural gas production.