By Houston Chronicle
Apr. 4–President Barack Obama’s decision to open up areas along the East Coast, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and in Alaskan waters to offshore exploration for oil and natural gas doesn’t seem to be making anybody happy.
No surprise there. The president has fashioned what he feels is a workable political compromise on offshore drilling and framed it with proposals for more stringent fuel economy standards, along with increased support for hybrids and biofuels.
Nobody loves a compromise, and this one’s no exception. For his trouble, Obama is garnering faint praise from the oil and gas industry and its supporters in the Republican Party, and loud cries of betrayal from some quarters of the environmental community, long considered among the president’s staunchest supporters.
But most folks can live with a compromise, and that seems true in this case. Obama’s approach on offshore drilling has what seems to us an apparent and calculated Nixon-to-China aspect to it, modeled after the conservative Richard Nixon’s gambit that he could forge relations with communist China that a more liberal president could not. This president obviously feels secure enough with his green base to go where a more conservative president with lesser environmental credentials would dare not. George W. Bush tried to open up offshore but got nowhere. Bush was faced down by a wall of opposition built largely by environmentalists.
President Obama’s bet is that opening up additional offshore areas for drilling will not alienate his green supporters and will eventually translate into more support from moderates for his environmental policies, particularly cap-and-trade legislation.
Time will tell whether that bet’s a winner, but we think Obama’s plan to open up offshore was a smart call. It will move the nation’s energy policy forward in a pragmatic way while paying proper attention to concerns about the environment.
Indeed. Opening up these offshore areas figures to be a slow process. As local energy attorney Mike Olsen told the Chronicle’s Tom Fowler last week, “This is a green light, but a green light for a long, long road with a lot of other traffic lights on it.” That’s as it should be.
Obama’s plan throws down the gauntlet to the nation’s oil and gas industry to do this job in the cleanest and greenest way. We believe this is a challenge the industry, much of which calls Houston home, can meet and master. We would encourage the oil patch to view it as an opportunity to display its many skills on a grand scale.
That should start with new seismology. The seismic work on these new areas is 30 years old — which is to say, ancient. “The old seismic is junk,” Roger Sassen, a consultant and adjunct professor at Texas A&M, told the Chronicle’s Brett Clanton.
It’s also harmful junk. For years, it has been used by opponents of drilling to minimize the potential benefits of offshore to the national energy picture. For example, the 30-year-old seismic data suggest a three-year supply of oil and a two-year supply of natural gas at current consumption rates. With new technology, estimates of recoverable reserves of oil range up to 65 billion barrels and nearly 300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, several times what the old seismic work depicted.
Which makes what we think is a key point: This is a technology story every bit as much as it is an energy story. One of the great underreported success stories of the past few years (outside the pages of the Houston Chronicle and energy industry publications) is the vast expansion of the nation’s natural gas reserves brought by new technology. There is every reason to believe that other such unexpected discoveries await in these newly available areas.
We would submit that this is also an important environmental and energy independence story. To the extent it expands the nation’s clean-burning natural gas reserves, and that is likely to be considerable, expanded offshore drilling is an act of environmental stewardship. To the extent that these environmentally friendly reserves replace energy from foreign sources, energy independence comes within reach.
We favor a national energy policy that builds a sturdy bridge to a clean, sustainable energy future. Accessing these offshore resources would help bring that future closer.
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