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Senate Votes to Do Nothing About Oil Crisis

May 23, 2011 – This past Wednesday the U.S. Senate considered a Republican-backed bill aimed at accelerating oil and gas drilling in American waters. It was a fairly modest piece of legislation that mirrored similar legislation recently passed in the House of Representatives that included the following:

  • Deadlines for several imminent lease sales for well in the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Overruling action taken by the Interior Department that cancelled lease sales of the coasts of Virginia and Alaska following the BP spill of last year.
  • Requiring action to either approve or deny permit applications for offshore drilling within 60 days of filing, along with automatic approval for applications when held longer than 60 days.

The night before the vote, the White House soundly criticized the bill, stating such a move to open waters drilling in the Gulf, Atlantic, and Alaska was hasty and needed more extensive environmental analysis. It also claimed the Interior Department did not intend to hold lease applications for drilling past mid-2012. The President’s response went on to argue that permitting was proceeding at a good pace already and such a bill was unnecessary.

But the White House found the next morning it had nothing to fear. The senate failed to allow the bill to progress in a 42-57 vote. Senate Democrats held ranks and voted as a block against the bill. 60 votes were needed for the bill to move forward so it was these five Republicans who voted with Democrats that stopped it dead in its tracks:

  • Jim DeMint (S.C.)
  • Mike Lee (Utah)
  • Richard Shelby (Ala.)
  • Olympia Snowe (Maine)
  • David Vitter (La.)

Senator Snowe is no surprise as she often sides with Democrats on many issues, but why someone like David Vitter from a state with so much invested in the industry? Vitter defended his vote because he felt it was a “show” bill with no real teeth. In his words it, “increases the burdens and requirements and hurdles of even the new Obama regulations that have been put in place since the BP disaster.”  He added the legislation does not go far enough to expand domestic drilling and does not require dramatic new lease sales in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off parts of the Pacific coast. “I’m disappointed that the bill is so modest in terms of the increased access,” he said.

I think this is a completely unnecessary extra burden, extra hurdle, extra layer of requirement. We need to make the permitting process smoother, more streamlined, more accelerated, not move in the opposite direction. – Senator David Vitter

All of this occurs at a time in world history in which regions dominated by OPEC has never been more volatile. Fully two-thirds of Muslim-dominated countries are currently in a state of complete political uncertainty. As much as we might question the Saudi’s loyalties, they have at least always supported stability in the oil market.  Jed Babbin, of the American Spectator recently wrote:

Progress since President Obama began his campaign to remake our relationship with the Arab world is measured in these facts: Saudi Arabia managed to crush nascent internal protests and send tanks to Bahrain to prop up the latter’s own little despotism. Libya, Yemen and Tunisia are aflame. Egypt is hanging on the edge, holding a post-revolutionary constitutional referendum and Iraq is caught between Maliki’s strongman ambitions and al-Sadr’s Iran-funded Shiite supremacy. Lebanon’s Hizballah—also Iran-funded and armed—is being used as a deterrent against an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

In other words, the only progress we have made is in accelerating instability and uncertainty in a region we have depended on far too heavily for our energy needs.

What other countries do is largely out of our control as a nation, but more troubling is our own administration’s actions. One of President Obama’s largest financial backers made a big production of dropping his shares in Petrobras, the Brazilian oil company. This occurred when the president announced he was offering U.S. secured loans for Petrobras. That move allowed Petorbras to drill in the Gulf of Mexico at the same time American companies were under a moratorium that has ultimately eliminated nearly 20, 000 jobs for American oil workers.

So what has happened in the year since then? The president made a trip to Brazil, congratulated them on their recent oil findings, and promised the U.S. wants to be Brazil’s best customer. In the months before that trip, Soros quietly bought back his shares in the Brazilian oil company and now holds 1.1 million shares of the company. While the White House hand-ties oil exploration in our country, it simultaneously applauds, enables, and rewards other countries for doing what it seems determined to stop here.

An anonymous comment on a well-read blog reveals the crux of the problem in dealing with the energy crisis in the United States.

The United States must face the fact that most of the world’s energy resources are in the hands of powerful states such as Russia, Iran, and Venezuela that are increasingly hostile to the United States. African sources such as Nigeria are unstable at best. Conservation, higher fuel-economy fuels become all the more critical along with major changes in foreign policy to develop cooperative energy relations.

The problem we have is not a lack of resources, but ignorance. Russia, Iran, and Venezuela do not hold most of the world’s energy resources. The largest natural gas deposits in the world are within U.S. borders. The Bakken Formation in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana could increase America’s oil reserves by an inconceivable 10 times, giving our economy the trump card against OPEC control, Iranian and Venezuelan threats of disrupted supply, and conditions in the Middle East a moot point.

EOG Resources of Texas started horizontal drilling in 2007, and that single well is expected to yield 700,000 barrels of oil. That means two such wells would single handedly wipe out a full 10% of our oil imports. 300 such wells would produce oil matching U.S. daily imports of around 15 million barrels. Conservative estimates indicate 200 billion barrels could be recovered in less than 10 years. If 200 billion barrels of oil at $90 a barrel are recovered in the high plains, the added wealth to the U.S. economy would be $18 trillion dollars, which would go a long way in stabilizing the U.S. trade deficit and could cut the cost of oil in half in the long run.

The problem is not resources but rather common sense. When the majority of leaders in this country find a way to drill some of that, we will have come a long way in solving our energy crisis for at least the next 100 years.

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