We can be optimistic about America’s energy security

RRichmond Times-Dispatch | David Banks | February 6, 2018

The outcry over potential oil and gas exploration in untapped areas of the Outer Continental Shelf — from the Atlantic to the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific and Arctic — has cast much-needed focus on America’s energy needs and uses. The future of oil and natural gas in our economy, their essential role in national security, and their contribution to the betterment of peoples around the world call for policies based on reason and reality, not vague arguments and political calculations about switching to renewable energy sources.

After the Trump administration as part of its America-First Offshore Energy Strategy announced the draft plan to permit energy exploration in federal waters, Gov. Ralph Northam, along with the governors of every other Atlantic state from New York to Florida — and those of California, Oregon, and Washington state — denounced it. The government estimates there to be 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of gas awaiting discovery on the OCS.

Many of their objections are vague or unsupported: Offshore drilling is unsafe. It conflicts with coastal tourism. It runs counter to efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In Virginia’s case, Northam based his opposition among other things on yet unknown — if any — impacts on clams and oysters, and the fact that it isn’t known how much money the commonwealth might receive from royalties.

There are legitimate issues — such as compatibility with operations at NASA’s Wallops Island and the Navy’s training programs — that must be considered before energy activities are launched. But offshore development is not incompatible, for example, with recreation and tourism, especially if rigs are beyond the horizon and can’t be seen from shore.

Moreover, the industry has made great strides in improving drilling technologies and, particularly, blowout preventers. Lessons learned from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico have informed improvements in existing safety standards and the creation of many new standards for equipment and best practices on spill prevention and response capabilities. Importantly, the oil and gas industry launched the Center for Offshore Safety to help offshore operators develop and monitor safety systems.

Opponents of offshore drilling seem to close their eyes to the fact that it accounts for a substantial amount of the oil the country requires for transportation and natural gas for electricity production, home heating, and manufacturing. We use far more oil and gas today than at any time in our history, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that oil and gas will supply 60 percent of the nation’s energy needs in 2040, all the while worldwide energy demand will continue to grow. The basic attractions of oil and gas — relatively low cost and great abundance — can drive environmental lobbies to distraction.

While opposing offshore drilling, Northam touts renewable energy, saying it’s doing very well and creating good jobs in Virginia. The governor and environmental groups prefer solar and wind energy, but despite massive government subsidies, combined they meet just 7 percent of U.S. demand for electricity and only 3.2 percent of the nation’s total energy needs.

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