Environment & the World

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Congress Okays More Drilling

Filed under: Energy, Oil, Politics — amirj @ 1:46 am

This past weekend both the U.S. House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (S. 3711). This legislation makes 8.3 million acres available for new oil and natural gas production projects.

The Act also contains other provisions, the inclusion of which enabled the Act’s proponents to frame it in a positive, progressive light. As a “consolation” (or a slap in the face depending on your viewpoint) for environmentalists, the Act allocates funds from drillling revenues for coastal wetlands restoration, hurricane protection and flood control projects in the Gulf States in addition to funds for parks and green space preservation in all 50 states. Thanks to these provisions, the Act manages to rationalize, on the surface, increased oil exploration and extraction in as a win-win solution. Along the same lines, the bill comes off as a benevolent boost for efforts to help protect Gulf states from future hurricanes and especially as a much-needed source of rebuilding funds for Katrina-stricken Louisiana. It also justifies the drilling in terms of creating new jobs and helping the U.S.A.’s energy security.

On that latter note, D-LA Senator Landrieu’s press release on the bill reads: “The area is projected to produce enough natural gas to sustain more than 1,000 chemical plants for 40 years, and enough oil to keep 2.7 million cars running and 1.2 million homes heated for more than 15 years.” These statistics fail, however, to convey that the U.S.’s voracious appetite for hydrocarbons means that all this new oil and natural gas would serve more as a light hor d’oeuvre than a serious fix for our petro cravings. At a consumption rate of over 20 million barrels of oil per day, all of the oil that this bill makes available would only satisfy a meager 2 months worth of the U.S.’s oil needs. Simiarly, with U.S. natural gas consumption at about 22 trillion cubic feet per year, the 6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas believed to be in this area would only meet an equivalent of one quarter of a year’s worth of U.S. natural gas demand. Of course, the oil and natural gas from this area would not be pumped out in such a short period of time, nor would this area ever constitute the sole source of hydrocarbons for the U.S. at any point in time. Nevertheless, these general calculations illustrate how minute these sources are compared to the total U.S. demand.

In a completely unsurprising move, President Bush praised the Act and will likely sign it into law swiftly. Ironically, even though the President has professed that this country is addicted to oil, signing this new law will do no nothing to wean us off the addiction. In fact, the sort of short-term, pseudo-petro-security this Act provides will only assuage our fears over the looming oil shortage, distract us from urgency of the matter, and will exacerbate our global warming emissions in the time being.

The Sierra Club opposed this bill, arguing that it makes more sense to improve car fuel efficiency and invest in wind and solar power. Indeed, it would have been much more fruitful for Congress to look into ways to improve energy efficiency and to reduce our humongous rate of fossil fuel consumption. Small-scale energy efficiency projects rolled out across the entire country could easily save more energy than we would ever pump from this area in the Gulf of Mexico. Furthermore, Congress could have seized this opportunity to show some really innovative and inspiring leadership. Instead of providing Gulf states with funds, generated from additional fossil fuel extraction, to protect the environment and guard against future hurricanes, Congress could have authorized financial incentives for new solar and wind energy projects in these Southern states, the tax revenues from which could serve the same end goal.

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