This switch, after years of opposing such action in the Senate, puts McCain in line with President George W. Bush’s energy policies. In his weekly radio address this past weekend, Bush called for Congress to act. Like McCain, Bush cited Americans’ pain at the pump as a reason for Congress to lift the ban on offshore drilling.
Which is funny, because there is no ban.
What the president and McCain want is for Congress to lift a moratorium on the issuance of new drilling leases.
Which is funny, because the oil companies aren’t using the leases they already have.
According to a special report released by the House Committee on Natural Resources earlier this month, the amount of drilling permits issued between 1999 and 2007 increased by 361 percent. But that doesn’t mean actual drilling has increased. The committee noted that there are almost 10,000 unused drilling permits already issued by the Bureau of Land Management. The report says the leases are being “stockpiled” by oil companies.
The report goes on to note that little more than 27 percent of federal land leased to oil companies and almost 24 percent of offshore federal drilling sites are currently producing oil and/or gas. In total, the committee estimates there are 68 million acres worth of leased but unused drilling sites. Should energy companies put these areas into use, domestic oil production would nearly double and natural gas production would increase by 75 percent.
According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, 79 percent of the offshore oil reserves and 84 percent of onshore reserves in the U.S. are already available for leasing without lifting the moratorium.
So instead of lifting the moratorium, Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) has a different idea. On June 12, Rahall introduced The Responsible Federal Oil and Gas Lease Act (H.R. 6251). The bill, which has 35 co-sponsors, would prevent the Secretary of the Interior from issuing new leases to companies that aren’t pursuing the leases they already have. Additionally, the bill proposes such companies give up leases they aren’t using.
Like McCain and Bush, Rahall cited high gas prices as a reason for Congressional action. However, in a press release announcing the bill, he placed the blame for those prices on oil companies instead of Congress:
“Big Oil, as many Americans already suspect, are perfectly fine with high gasoline prices at the pump while they hold back domestic production on federal leases and enjoy world record profits. I am calling them on the carpet. I am calling their bluff. We are not going to continue to allow them to speculate and profiteer with public resources to the detriment of the American people.”
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) both sits on the Natural Resources Committee and co-sponsored Rahall’s bill. Last week, as a guest on the Thom Hartmann radio program, he said that even if the industry was granted more leases, it would take years to get the specialized equipment necessary to start drilling.
“The American Exploration and Production Council heard me speaking on the floor about an hour ago, and they faxed over a fact sheet, none of which I disagree with. They say, ‘Hey, it takes a really long time to develop these leases, get the equipment there, drill them, and do all we need to do,’” Defazio said on the program. “A lot of [the leases] are deep water, they require special equipment, and they say there is a shortage of that equipment.”
The Energy Information Administration has said that even if domestic production increased, it would have little impact on prices at the pump. In fact, the impact wouldn’t arrive until around 2030, and “is expected to be insignificant.”
Rahall’s bill has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, on which Rahall serves as chairman. In the report by the committee’s staff cited earlier, the Bush Administration is accused of using an Interior Department report to “delude Americans into believing that vast tracts of federal land with large concentrations of oil and gas are off-limits to oil and gas development.” However, the Interior Department report shows that only 38 percent of oil and 16 percent of natural gas is unavailable for leasing, mostly because the resources are below protected wilderness areas.
One of the most hotly debated of those areas is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The White House has consistently called for the opening of ANWR to drilling. However, there is more than 60 times as much space (both on land and offshore) in Alaska already available for drilling. Only a fraction of that land has been leased.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ALERT