The American energy crisis continued to dominate headlines this week, with oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens and his plan to end foreign oil dependence, the bipartisan “Gang of 10” Senators and their plan for offshore oil drilling, and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s softening his statements about offshore drilling in light of a seeming shift in national perspective.
Obama’s comments-that he may be open to offshore oil drilling if it coincides with development of other energy sources-come as Americans continue to feel the pain at the pump. John McCain, a strong supporter of offshore oil drilling, has picked up steam recently, while for the first time since 2003-the year the Public Policy Institute of California initially started posing offshore drilling questions to residents-more Californians indicated in a survey they favored drilling (51 percent) than were opposed to it (45 percent). Republican Matt Kokkonen, who is challenging Representative Lois Capps for her 23rd District seat this fall, said that 86 percent of the people in the district support more drilling. He argues that drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel would benefit the economy, energy, and the environment. “The world market is demanding huge amounts of oil,” he said. Capps, however, opposes further offshore drilling, as do Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and many coastal politicians.
Citing high gas prices as his motive, President George W. Bush last month lifted a presidential moratorium on offshore drilling. But the move means nothing unless Congress votes to lift its ban, which is part of an appropriations bill that should be addressed this September. Linda Krop, lead counsel for the Environmental Defense Center, cautioned that if the moratorium were lifted, it would take roughly 20 years for drilling to be permitted and conducted. She called Bush’s move a “gift to the oil industry before he leaves office.”
Last week, some Republican members of Congress refused to leave the House floor going into an August recess, instead protesting Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to put energy on the table for discussion. Their protest-which Capps, back on the Central Coast for the month, called a “gimmick”-was expected to continue as long as there were people who were listening.
In the meantime, Capps has joined with Obama and Pelosi in calling for the president to release roughly 70 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), currently 97 percent full. Rather than having a years-long wait for drilling to happen, the release could cause an immediate price drop, they say. Bush saw prices drop from releasing SPR oil after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as have his predecessors Bill Clinton in 2000 and his father George H.W. Bush in 1991, when prices subsequently dropped $8 a barrel. While that is happening and while Congress works on a comprehensive renewable energy policy using wind and solar technologies, the Democrats say oil companies should drill in the 68 million acres of federal land and water already leased to them. Capps said that despite his recent comments suggesting he was open to the idea of drilling, Obama has remained consistent in calling for comprehensive energy reform, including the announcement Monday in Michigan that he would guarantee the auto industry $4 billion in tax credits and loans for fuel-efficient vehicles. These strategies need to be the focus, Capps and fellow Democrats argue, not opening up more protected land and water.
The per-barrel price dropped below $119 this week, a three-month low, but $4 plus some change per gallon at the pump stings many in comparison to what they paid eight years ago. “These record profit announcements, record high energy prices, and insistence of the President to continue pushing more of the same failed strategy that got us here in the first place amply demonstrate the bankruptcy of the Bush Administration’s energy policies,” Capps said in a statement last week after Exxon Mobil announced its $11.68-billion second-quarter earnings-the largest quarterly profit ever by any U.S. corporation.