Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Washington Post Editorial Board versus The National Resources Defense Counsel

There is an interesting editorial in WaPo today taking to task one of the many nature worshiping eco-nut groups, in this case the National Resources Defense Council, who want to insure that the U.S. does not exploit its natural resources. The NRDC took out full page ads in newspapers across the country charging that "Bush's plan" to drill for oil off-shore and to pursue oil shale development is "pure snake oil." WaPo responded, noting that the NRDC was not being honest about at least three points: We probably have much more than simply 3% of the world's oil reserves, but are simply unable to even explore under current regulations; the oil companies are in fact using their current leases; and drilling offshore does not present the environmental dangers it did decades ago.

This from the editorial board of the Washington Post:

THE NATURAL Resources Defense Council Action Fund . . . calls on supporters "to stop the giveaway of our coasts." It is urging visitors to its Web site to send a pre-written letter to their members of Congress that says, "I am not buying the lie . . . that sacrificing the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and America's coastal waters to oil drilling would make a real difference in gas prices -- either today or twenty years from today!" And the missive adds, "With just three percent of the world's oil reserves, our nation simply doesn't have enough oil to impact the global market or drill our way to lower prices at the pump."

The NRDC's arguments above neatly encapsulate the position taken by environmentalists and other opponents of offshore drilling. . . . [T]here are three "truths" masquerading as fact among drilling opponents that need to be challenged:

· Drilling is pointless because the United States has only 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. This is a misleading because it refers only to known oil reserves. According to the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service (MMS), while there are an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil in the off-limits portions of the OCS, those estimates were made using old data from now-outdated seismic equipment. In the case of the Atlantic Ocean, the data were collected before Congress imposed a moratorium on offshore drilling in 1981. In 1987, the MMS estimated that there were 9 billion barrels of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. By 2006, after major advances in seismic technology and deepwater drilling techniques, the MMS resource estimate for that area had ballooned to 45 billion barrels. In short, there could be much more oil under the sea than previously known. The demand for energy is going up, not down. And for a long time, even as alternative sources of energy are developed, more oil will be needed.

· The oil companies aren't using the leases they already have. According to the MMS, there were 7,457 active leases as of June 8. Of those, only 1,877 were classified as "producing." As we pointed out in a previous editorial, the five leases that have made up the Shell Perdido project off Galveston since 1996 are not classified as producing. Only when it starts pumping the equivalent of an estimated 130,000 barrels of oil a day at the end of the decade will it be deemed "active." Since 1996, Shell has paid rent on the leases; filed and had approved numerous reports with the MMS, including an environmentally sensitive resource development plan and an oil spill recovery plan that is subject to unannounced practice runs by the MMS; drilled several wells to explore the area at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars; and started constructing the necessary infrastructure to bring the oil to market. The notion that oil companies are just sitting on oil leases is a myth. With oil prices still above $100 a barrel, that charge never made sense.

· Drilling is environmentally dangerous. Opposition to offshore drilling goes back to 1969, when 80,000 barrels of oil from an offshore oil well blowout washed up on the beaches of Santa Barbara. In 1971, the Interior Department instituted a host of reporting requirements (such as the resource development and oil spill recovery plans mentioned above) and stringent safety measures. Chief among them is a requirement for each well to have an automatic shut-off valve beneath the ocean floor that can also be operated manually. According to the MMS, between 1993 and 2007, there were 651 spills of all sizes at OCS facilities (in federal waters three miles or more offshore) that released 47,800 barrels of oil. With 7.5 billion barrels of oil produced in that time, that equates to 1 barrel of oil spilled per 156,900 barrels produced. That's not to minimize the danger. But no form of energy is perfect or without trade-offs. Besides, if it is acceptable to drill in the Caspian Sea and in developing countries such as Nigeria where environmental concerns are equally important, it's hard to explain why the United States should rule out drilling off its own coasts.

The strongest argument against drilling is that it could distract the country from a pursuit of alternative sources of energy. There's no question that the administration has been lax on that front. True leadership would emphasize both alternative sources and rational approaches to developing oil and natural gas. No, the United States cannot drill its way to energy independence. But with the roaring economies of China and India gobbling up oil in the two countries' latter-day industrial revolutions, the United States can no longer afford to turn its back on finding all the sources of fuel necessary to maintain its economy and its standard of living. What's required is a long-term, comprehensive plan that includes wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels and nuclear -- and that acknowledges that oil and gas will be instrumental to the U.S. economy for many years to come.

Read the entire article. Private industry has long been pursuing alternative energy forms. They are simply not yet ready to substitute for oil. To be satisfied with high oil prices while awaiting the mastering of alternative sources seems a sure way to undercut our economy on a grand scale.


Moses Gunner said...

I just ran across this interesting article "Drill Here, Drill Now," that delivered a number of interesting points about offshore drilling. One interesting fact is that 620,500 barrels of oil ooze organically from North America's ocean floors each year, compared to the average 6,555 barrels that oil companies have spilled annually since 1998. It's an interesting article and i suggest you read it.

Anonymous said...

Someone who has the knowledge and ability should research and report on the number of oil sites, power plants, and alternative energy project that environmental groups of various sorts have blocked or locked up with law suits. I started searching, but didn't get very far. Interestingly, I found a site in Alaska reported by Reuters as having development stopped by a suit by "two environmental groups". I searched the article from multiple sources, and never found the name of more than one group. It's possible they combined to form a single group for the purpose of the suit, but if so, the individual names were never mentioned. The article made it clear that they had a number of issues lined up, and would file them sequentially, as each suit was completed. Since drilling/developing could not be actuated while the suit was in prgress, any roadblock they could use to drag out the process was part of the game.
Something will have to be done about this sort of legal action. I don't know what, but something.

GW said...

Jaxon: That is a good site. Thanks for the link. For the record, I actually blogged this fact tongue in cheek a bit ago also - http://wolfhowling.blogspot.com/2008/08/part-iii-why-exploit-our-domestic-oil.html

Suek: Thanks for the comment. The number would be in the thousands. Not a single well gets dug today nor a single drop of energy created without a law suit. The system we have in place is now insane. If you have not seen it, http://wolfhowling.blogspot.com/2008/08/oil-hostile-domestic-regulatory.html
That does not come close to answering your question, but it gives some idea of the scope of the problem. Sen Inhofe might be the one to pursue that question to. You can find him linked on the side under "Environmental."

I would love to get the site to the article you mention in your comment by the way.