A Conservative Energy Agenda

When uttered with respect to energy, the statement “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” should make Americans shudder.  For almost four decades, with just a brief interregnum under part of the Reagan Administration, the government has created our energy problems and then tried to convince Americans to yield their liberties to the government to make things better.  Nothing has been solved; since the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, it has only gotten worse. 

North America has enormous supplies of energy.  But wherever they exist, producing them has become more a matter of controversy than of common sense, and the consequences have been profound.

The seemingly endless opposition to all energy forms but those most exotic, expensive and unproven has not been by happenstance, it’s been a campaign.  It is time for those who believe in our country to recognize that we have a fight on our hands; time for American citizens to take back the energy their government will not allow them to use.  In short, what’s needed most urgently is a conservative energy agenda.  And there’s no better foundational principal for it than the idea of getting government out of the way. 

As the only developed nation in the world that restricts access to its offshore resources, the first element of a conservative energy agenda must be to lift the Presidential and Congressional moratoria on deepwater outer-continental shelf (OCS) energy exploration and production. Currently, 97% of America’s 2 billion acres of OCS are not being used for their energy potential, even though the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) estimates that the outer continental shelf contains nearly 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. (The U.S. consumes roughly 7.5 billion barrels of oil and 23 trillion cubic feet of natural gas annually)  President Bush should have torn up the executive version years ago so Congress could decide whether it wants to be the only thing standing between Americans and cheaper energy.

It’s beyond parody that the Chinese — working with the Venezuelans — are planning to begin drilling for oil off the west coast of Florida while American companies are barred from doing so. 

Our “access denied” energy policy doesn’t end with offshore oil, either.  Government needs to get out of the way of producing energy onshore, on lands owned by the taxpayers.  First, Americans must demand repeal the Congressional prohibition precluding oil shale leases on nationalized lands.  In 2005, Congress directed the government come up with a program to lease America’s oil shale resources — the largest oil supply in the world – for American consumers. The United States has 2 trillion barrels of oil shale. This is more than 7 times the amount of crude oil reserves found in Saudi Arabia, and is enough to meet current U.S. demand for over 250 years.

According to the U.S Department of Energy (DOE), “Once developed, U.S. oil shale resources will be similar in extent and energy potential to Alberta’s tar sand reserves. When oil shale and tar sands are considered together, the United States and Canada will be able to claim the largest oil reserves in the world.” Two years after telling the government to develop shale, in 2007, Congress adopted a rider that prohibited the Department of Interior from finishing the job it was assigned in 2005.  The result: United States is still without a program to bring this massive resource to market for American consumers.  This must change if we aim to get serious about energy supplies.

Perhaps the most notable example of the government’s economic and strategic masochism is Congress’ refusal to approve oil and gas production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).  In 1980, a month before he left office, President Jimmy Carter and the Congress set aside 1.5 million of ANWR’s 19 million acres for potential oil development, subject to Congressional approval.  Ronald Reagan asked Congress to open it in 1987. 
According to U.S. government estimates, ANWR could produce about as much oil per day as Texas.   The government has stopped Americans from increasing our proven oil reserves by 50%, not because it is special (it’s not) or because it’s “the last wilderness” (it’s not) or because of caribou (which have grown in numbers at Prudhoe Bay, next door to ANWR), but because it has become symbolic of the fight over domestic energy.

Moreover, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) recently estimated that ANWR energy production would generate about $200 billion in federal tax and royalty revenue. If approved by Congress, ANWR would be the single largest producing oil field in America and the entire Northern Hemisphere.  The Left knows that if politicians get a taste of the money that would be generated for the budget from ANWR, they would begin to change their positions in support of US energy development. 

That brings us to continental cooperation, and appointing the U.S. Commission on North American Energy Freedom as mandated by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.  As part of the federal government’s national energy policy, Congress established the 16-member Commission on North American Energy Security, and directed the President to appoint representatives from the United States. The President has failed to do so.

North America’s energy resource base is enormous. It includes the world’s largest oil shale deposits, the world’s largest coal deposits, and the world’s largest oil sands reserves. Combined, these resources are sufficient to power North America for centuries, giving us plenty of time to transition to new energy sources as they become affordable. Meanwhile, all of North America would benefit from more indigenous energy production. A coordinated effort between the United States, Canada and Mexico — could help unlock North American energy policy and put us once again in charge of our own destiny.  Along the way, it would help with our illegal immigration problem; if Mexico strengthens its economy through energy development, there will be more opportunities for work at home.  Currently, that money is going to the far-flung reaches of the world. 

We also need to repeal Section 526 which prohibits federal contracting for “nonconventional” sources of petroleum.  This section, inserted by Congressman Henry Waxman, stops U.S. federal agencies from contracting to buy the frontier fuels of the future based on how they are made.  Investment in frontier fuels will play a critical role in reducing America’s dependence on foreign sources of energy. Advanced fuel technologies, including coal-to-liquids, natural gas-to-liquids, fuel from oil shale, and fuel from Canadian oil sands are specifically targeted by Section 526. This makes no sense. 
America cannot run the world’s greatest economy on expensive and imported energy for much longer.  It is time to use our own supplies, and America has no shortage.  We simply lack the political will to push government aside and put Americans to work producing them.  As soon as that happens, our frontier energy sources — which rival those of any other continent in the world — could set America on a path to a stronger, more robust and more secure future.  But first, government has got to get out of our way.