Drilling off coast isn't the answer - Santa Barbara News-Press

Californians should be forewarned: There’s a new move afoot to open up our coastline to new offshore drilling. And if these people have their way, we will see new drilling platforms built as close as 3 miles to our shores.

The reason? There are some who are trying to convince the American public that new offshore drilling is the answer to our record energy prices at the pump. They want to drill in the Arctic wilderness, the Gulf, and off our coasts.

These individuals are seeking to lift the federal protections that have been in place to prevent oil exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf since 1981. President Bush has signaled that he would also overturn the additional anti-drilling protections that were added in an executive order issued by his father, President George H.W. Bush in 1991 and extended by President Bill Clinton until 2011.

Let me be clear: We simply cannot drill our way out of this energy crisis. Lifting the moratoria is a false promise and an unnecessary risk.

The truth is, the United States has less than 3 percent of global oil resources and 5 percent of the population – but we account for more than 25 percent of oil demand.

Energy markets are global, complex, and vulnerable to excessive speculation, fraud and manipulation. And when you factor in a weak dollar – you wind up with oil prices above $140 per barrel and $4 per gallon gasoline. And prices that only continue to escalate.

So, there is no quick or easy fix. And it’s becoming increasingly clear that opening up the coastline of California and the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf is not the answer.        

The Energy Information Administration, or EIA, studied proposals to open up the portion of the Outer Continental Shelf protected by the moratoria – which I strongly oppose – and they found that there would be no short-term gain.

The EIA report stated that this proposed new drilling on the Shelf “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural production or prices before 2030.”

In fact, a new investigative report from the House Committee on Natural Resources, clearly found the United States cannot drill its way out of this problem of high gas prices. Here’s what the report found:

  • There is no correlation between increased drilling and lower gas prices. Drilling leases issued by the federal government to drill in federal waters and on federal lands increased by 361 percent from 1999 to 2007. And yet gas prices more than doubled in that time.

  • According to the Minerals Management Service, 82 percent of natural gas and 79 percent of oil believed to exist on the Outer Continental Shelf is already available for drilling through existing leases – right now.

  • There are 10,000 additional permits for 68 million acres of federal lands and waters where drilling leases have been issued, but are not being used to increase production.  And about 35.5 million acres of those existing, non-producing leases are located in federal waters. These leases could produce an additional 4.8 million barrels of oil and 44.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas each day. That would double total U.S. oil production, and increase natural gas production by 75 percent.

So, it’s simply not worth the risk.    

Californians are, unfortunately, all too familiar with the environmental consequences of offshore drilling.

An oil spill in 1969 off the coast of Santa Barbara killed thousands of birds, as well as dolphins, seals, and other marine animals.  

And we know this could happen again.

That’s why California has had in place additional protections to prohibit oil and gas drilling in State waters since 1994. And a majority of Californians continue to oppose any effort to start new drilling of our state’s coast.

Bottom line: New offshore drilling is a gamble we can’t afford to make.

The fact remains that we need a real, long-term strategy to address our nation’s addiction to fossil fuels.

We’ve got to go clean and green: in driving, in heating, in cooling, in building and in fueling. We must reduce our energy consumption, make the shift towards renewable energy, and invest in clean technology.  
We also need to get serious about the problem of excessive speculation in our energy futures markets – and protect these critical markets from fraud and manipulation.

And until we do – prices will continue to skyrocket, and American consumers will pay the price.

Dianne Feinstein is a U.S. senator from California.