Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Posturing on Offshore Drilling

Bush rescinded a long-standing executive order banning offshore oil drilling.

There have been two prohibitions to drilling, one imposed by Congress in 1981 and another signed by Bush's father in 1990 and renewed in 1998 by President Clinton.

Bush said last month that he wanted to end the drilling ban, but wanted Congress to go first. He's signaled in the past that he'd allow individual states to maintain their own bans, and did so again Monday.

Experts agree that it would take at least seven and probably 10 years before any benefits from overturning the ban would become evident. Annual American oil production is about 1.8 billion barrels, and the Interior Department estimates that as much as 19 billion barrels remain untapped in coastal areas that now are off limits to drillers.
This is the really annoying part:
Monday, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Bush no longer could wait.

"It has been nearly a month since the president urged the Congress to act to expand environmentally friendly and responsible exploration for American energy," she said. "Congress has not moved forward, despite calls from constituents and the continued pressure of record high energy prices."
There is nothing environmentally friendly about oil production, onshore or offshore. The main reason we have a ban on offshore drilling is spills like the one in 1969 in Santa Barbara, California. Many political leaders from California are angry about the move, with good reason. (Update: Apparently this talking point is based on the claim that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita did not cause any spills, which is false. I wrote more on Katrina and oil spills two years ago.)

Since the legal ban remains in place (for now), my understanding is that this action will not allow any drilling, and it is mostly symbolic. However, Democratic lawmakers may feel pressured by this, or use this as an excuse, to repeal the legislative ban. Given their record over the past two years, I would put the chance of a repeal at about 50%. It might be worth contacting members of Congress to warn them against that course of action.

Further update: The Natural Resources Defense Council has gotten wind of an effort in Congress to repeal the ban. Take action to stop it before it gains too much momentum.