I can't think of any subject that holds the headlines and both public and political debate as does oil. I also can't find too many other subjects where the discourse is mostly smack. Global climate change and the subject of oil rival each other for pundits and politicos making statements and pronouncements that appear to evince the same degree of intellectual credibility as a schnauzer explaining quantum mechanics. So let's take a look at the facts as they exist in the Real World.
First, let's examine the sacred shibboleths of drilling off-shore and in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
At the end of 2006, W. Bush signed into law "The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act" thus rescinding his daddy's ban. The Act opened up about 8 million acres of Outer Continental Shelf to drilling. It is estimated that this area contains possibly 40 billion barrels of oil. Estimated, that is. At the time the Act was signed, oil was around $60 a barrel. Since then, no drilling has occured. And yet, a few months ago when the price of oil temporarily dipped $10 a barrel, McCain was on the stump crowing that the drop in oil prices was due to Bush's lifting of the ban on off-shore drilling.
In other words, a very temporary downwards blip in oil was due to the President doing nothing.
OK - here is the Bush administration's own figures on oil and natural gas, from the Energy Information Administration's "Impacts of Increased Access to Oil and Natural Gas Resources in the Lower 48 Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)" (Jan.1 2003)
OCS Areas Crude Oil (billions of barrels) Natural Gas (trillions of cubic feet)
Available for leasing and development
Eastern Gulf of Mexico 2.27 10.14
Central Gulf of Mexico 22.67 113.61
Western Gulf of Mexico 15.98 86.62
TOTAL AVAILABLE 40.92 210.37
Unavailable for leasing and development
Washington-Oregon 0.40 2.28
Northern California 2.08 3.58
Central California 2.31 2.14
Southern California 5.58 9.75
Eastern Gulf of Mexico 3.82 22.16
Atlantic 3.82 36.99
TOTAL UNAVAILABLE 18.17 77.17
TOTAL LOWER 48 OCS 59.09 287.54
According to the EIA, oil companies had 40.92 billion barrels of Gulf oil available for leasing and development in 2003. Since then, in the last five years, only 7 billion barrels have been discovered.
The federal moratorium only blocks about 18 billion barrels, almost all of which is due to California's refusal to increase off-shore drilling. That leaves about 8 billion barrels available for exploitation - basically what the world uses in three months. And then, of course, there's the time frame. Every time a Republican or Fox News and its microcephalic talking heads tout off-shore drilling, the time frame goes down. First it was a realistic 10 years, then 8 to 10, then 5 years, then an utterly absurd one to two years. Pretty soon I'll expect Sean Inannity or McSame to be exhalting that we can have it out of the ground and into the gas tank by Friday, noon.
Let's understand something here; off-shore drilling is extremely expensive. There's a lack of drilling platforms and a paucity of trained workers, so when you commit yourself to drilling, you'd better be damn sure that you're right. That's why seismic analysis takes so long. Ask anyone in the actual oil industry and they'll tell you that after a lease becomes available you'll have to wait anywhere from 5 to 10 years before you even get exploratory drilling. The oil available right now for leasing and development will not become a factor until 2020.
And that's the industry's figure, not mine.
In this particular space-time continuum we like to call The Real World, by 2020, lifting the moritorium on off-shore drilling may add approximately 50,000 to 100,000 barrels a day to the nation's oil supply.
Will this lower the price of oil? Perhaps one might think this if they were utterly bat-s__t crazy. The Saudis announced that they would be increasing production to add an additional 500,000 barrels a day by the end of 2008 and it didn't have the slightest effect on oil prices - none!