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Washington’s Best-Kept Secret: More U.S. Energy Becomes Accessible October 1 If Congress Doesn’t Act

Anti-energy groups and their allies in government have successfully slowed and stopped energy investment in America over the last 30 years. Today, increased demand from newly developing economies around the world is putting heightened pressure on supply, and American families and businesses alike are being hurt by energy costs that are spiraling out of control.

While the mainstream media have finally begun to cover the issue of energy in earnest, the recurring theme in news stories is that most people want the government to “do something.” Perhaps the best-kept secret in Washington right now is that for those of us concerned about energy prices, we don’t need the government to “do something,” but rather, to “do nothing.”

The result of their inaction will mean that enormous new supplies of potential energy will be unlocked for the first time in decades, and this will send a strong message to the rest of the world that the United States is back in the energy producing business, and we are willing to do more than wring our hands and complain. Moreover, prices will likely drop as a result.

Congress Needs Do Nothing

Two huge domestic sources of energy–much of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that surrounds our nation and the federal government’s oil shale lands in the West—will be open for drilling access on October 1 if Congress doesn’t extend a year-by-year appropriations rider that has stopped oil-shale energy production for the past year, and OCS production for 27 years.

By simply doing nothing, these bans will expire, and these taxpayer-owned resources will become available to add jobs, energy and national security for our nation.

The oldest of the bans is the annual rider that has been added to the bill that funds the government every year since 1981. It has made the U.S. the only developed economy in the world where it is illegal to produce our own energy on our own offshore lands. As a result of it and other government policies, less than 3% of our OCS areas have been leased for energy production, and American families and businesses have been paying the price with more and more imported oil at higher and higher costs. When President Bush lifted a similar executive ban on July 14, it left the annual rider as the only thing between Americans and the oil and natural gas they own under government waters. The government estimates that there are 86 billion barrels of oil in the OCS, about 18 billion barrels of which is off limits.

However, that estimate suffers from 27 years of bad policy that has meant that 97% of our OCS is not even being leased for energy. If those lands aren’t leased, that means we’re not looking, and there is very little information about the true scope of our domestic resource base on the OCS. Any petroleum geologist worth his salt will tell you that current estimates are extraordinarily low as a result.

More Than Saudi Arabia

The only way energy is found is when someone goes out and looks for it. That’s how Brazil found a world-class deposit off its shores that many think will make it a huge world exporter in the near future. That’s how America finally found Prudhoe Bay in Alaska, after decades of fruitless search. And that’s why Cuba is securing deals to drill in its own waters within 50 miles of Florida. No oil has ever been found by people in Washington saying it can’t be done. So don’t trust the government’s numbers about how much oil remains offshore—they don’t know, and they haven’t let others find out.

Many Americans have heard about oil shale, a rock that burns and has the potential to produce 800 billion barrels of super-clean fuel right here at home. That’s three times as much as Saudi Arabia has in oil reserves. For a century, people have worked to try to free up this resource and put it to work for American consumers. In 2005, Congress decided that studying something for a century without doing anything was long enough and, with energy prices going up, directed the Department of the Interior to issue regulations to initiate a leasing program to put this asset to work for American consumers. Unfortunately, another rider was added to a 2007 bill funding the government that stopped those regulations from being issued through September 30 of this year, putting a halt to the leasing program.

The good news about these riders is that since they have to be renewed between now and October 1, the heightened awareness of Americans about our energy situation may mean that the nation will benefit, because, as everyone knows, if Congress is good at one thing, it’s doing nothing, and if they do nothing about these riders, America will be on the road to finally doing something about producing more energy at home.

Written By

Mr. Kish is senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research (IER). With more than 25 years of experience on Congressional committees, Kish‚??s primary focus is access to conventional and unconventional energy resources on federal government lands and in the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.

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