Washington Must Find a Way to Say 'Yes' to Offshore Exploration
This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
For supporters of expanded offshore energy production, the Offshore Technology Conference presents a unique opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with expanding production on America's Outer Continental Shelf. OTC represents the innovative and pioneering spirit of the energy industry and highlights the importance of leveraging our offshore resources. Federal policies must support that exploration, not impede it.
We know America's OCS contains a vast resource base, and we know the industry has the technical expertise and know-how to tap it. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management estimates that as much as 90 billion barrels of oil and 398 trillion cubic feet of natural gas exist offshore from Alaska to the Atlantic, to the Gulf of Mexico and the West Coast. For perspective, the U.S. trucking industry - one of the largest consumers of gasoline and diesel - could fuel every single one of its trucks every single day for 101 years with the oil resources available in the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.
Unfortunately, the future ability to tap these resources remains murky. Under the current five year plan, much of the OCS remains off-limits to development. Enacted last year, current leasing plans block development in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the mid and South Atlantic regions for the next five years, despite bipartisan support for the reinstatement of lease sales in these regions. Indeed, at OTC a panel of 8 coastal governors called for expansion of offshore lease sales as a way to spur economic expansion in their states.
Much of the Atlantic OCS contains recoverable sources of oil and natural gas, but so little exploration has been allowed that many states lack hard evidence of their resource base. And many states are now clamoring for better information. Leaders in South Carolina are calling for the federal government to allow them the ability to conduct seismic surveys off the coast as a way to at least understand the size of their resource base. At OTC, Governor Nikki Haley said her state wants to ability to decide its own fate, and that they have the expertise to properly regulate the industry to insure safe production.
Others in South Carolina see potential offshore revenues as a way to bolster the states investments in infrastructure improvements. Leasing revenues could help the state pay for much needed road construction and upgrades, and help to make necessary upgrades to the Port of Charleston, further brightening the prospects for maritime economic expansion.
Readers of this publication know of the recent difficulties with arctic exploration off Alaska's coasts. More than one company has pulled out of the arctic, not because of the lack of skill, but because of "regulatory uncertainty". Reassuring shareholders that the difficulties of arctic production are worth the risk is difficult when Washington cannot seem to keep a consistent playbook. Meanwhile, Russia and Norway are moving to expand their Arctic drilling capabilities, shifting investment and expertise away from American interests and putting us behind the curve in developing our Arctic resources.
Policy makers in Washington should know that finding ways to say "yes" to expanded production on the OCS does not mean they are shirking their responsibilities to provide oversight. Building on our undeniable success and technological advancement in developing our onshore resources, we should be looking to the sea to help supply our nation with domestic oil and natural gas in a safe, reliable and responsible manner. Regulators should approach the challenges with the same optimism and dynamism as attendees of the OTC.
With a renewed focus on the OCS and the flexibility to allow states to determine their own fate, Washington could help usher in yet another energy boom. And with it, another round of solid and sustainable economic expansion.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
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