This opinion piece presents the opinions of the author.
The federal government is currently in the midst of a highly-impactful process to determine which areas it will make available for offshore oil and gas leasing between 2017 and 2022, including whether to maintain lease sales in the Alaskan Arctic and whether to expand leasing opportunities to the Mid and South Atlantic for the first time since the early 1980s.
The positive impact of encouraging domestic oil and gas production has been clear over the past few years. First, it has allowed the U.S. to make foreign policy decisions without the fear of petro-states such as Venezuela using their “oil weapons” in retaliation against U.S. foreign policy. Second, consumers are already benefiting significantly from increased domestic production. The Energy Information Administration expects the typical American family to save ~$700 on gasoline this year, providing a significant economic stimulus at no cost to the government or taxpayer.
As the Interior Department moves forward with developing its offshore leasing strategy for 2017-2022, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of comments that have already been submitted in support of increased offshore access, it is noteworthy that recent polling continues to reflect strong majority support for expanded offshore drilling from voters in states as varied as Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Iowa, and New Hampshire. From individuals and families to truckers, farmers, and manufacturers, among many others, energy consumers across the country are paying close attention, knowing that the outcome of this process will help determine the trajectory of our nation’s energy and economic security well into the next decade.
While the critical process of determining which areas will be made available for leasing plays out over the next year, there is another related, time-sensitive and vital process underway that will determine (1) whether decisions on leasing in the Mid and South Atlantic in particular will be well-informed and (2) whether more economically and environmentally efficient activity will take place if leasing in this region is indeed allowed.
Specifically, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), other federal agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and adjacent coastal states have been reviewing applications submitted by companies to update decades-old resource estimates by using modern technology to acquire data that would help determine the location and extent of oil and gas resources in offshore waters stretching from Florida to Delaware.
While current resource estimates (using very old technology) suggest that the region could hold around 3 billion barrels of oil and over 25.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, it is instructive to remember that Gulf of Mexico oil and gas resource estimates rose 500% from 1987 to 2011 following data acquisition using up-to-date technology. Furthermore, a 2013 report by Quest Offshore Inc. concluded that developing offshore oil and natural gas supplies Atlantic-wide would create upwards of 280,000 jobs, contribute $24 billion annually to the U.S. economy, generate $51 billion in tax revenue, and provide an additional domestic oil supply of 1.3 million barrels of oil per day.
Underscoring the crucial point that we can have energy exploration and development AND environmental protection, BOEM has noted that in establishing a framework for reviewing applications to conduct seismic surveys in the Mid- and South Atlantic, it selected “the highest practicable level of mitigation measures and safeguards to reduce or eliminate impacts to marine life.” The agency later further clarified that “there has been no documented scientific evidence of noise from air guns used in geological and geophysical...seismic activities adversely affecting marine animal populations or coastal communities” and “no known detrimental impact to…commercial fishing.”
Demonstrating the strong public sentiment that exists for updated Mid and South Atlantic resource data and the economic and environmental potential that responsible development of such resources could entail, comments in support of the eight applications to conduct deep penetration Atlantic seismic surveys outweighed those against the applications by a margin of nearly 56-1!
As reflected in both public comments and polling, consumers and businesses across the country fully understand that the either-or choice presented by anti-energy activists is false. They understand that we can and do conduct offshore energy activity and at the same time protect the environment. With American energy, economic, and national security on the line, it is imperative that Washington get the message as well and promptly approve the Atlantic permits under review.
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