Obama Aversion to Offshore Energy Development Bankrupts the Nation

The president is bankrupting the nation by preventing private sector investment in offshore energy development.

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An offshore oil drilling platform sits in the Gulf of Mexico, some 90 miles due south of Mobile, Alabama.

Tom Pyle is the president of the Institute for Energy Research.

The Obama administration is playing fast and loose with both the facts and the policy rationale for restricting private sector investment in America's enormous energy prospects. Even worse, the administration is failing to abide by their moral and legal responsibilities to foster the economic welfare of the citizens they are obliged to serve. Not only has the administration erected ruinous regulatory barriers to energy development, they have also now revealed their anti-fossil fuel paranoia by refusing to provide access to our abundant resources that underlie federal offshore lands.

The recently announced decision concerning the over 1 billion acres of federal offshore lands is a stark case in point that reveals a bankrupt policy agenda. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar's June 28 announcement to limit access to only portions of the areas in the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic provides clear evidence of the administration's aversion to allowing private industry an opportunity to inventory the extent of our nation's endowment. While touting the statistic that the plan makes available "over 75 percent" of the estimated resource potential, the secretary fails to inform the public that such estimates virtually ignore the potential of frontier areas, like the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. Since many areas are largely unexplored, we are left in the dark as to the extent of such national wealth that may well hold the key to our near-term and future economic prosperity. The same logic would have denied offering the deepwater Gulf of Mexico in the early '90s when resource estimates were even lower than that of the current estimates for the Atlantic. Thankfully, previous administrations wisely chose to abide by the governing statutory framework and provide consumers desperately needed domestic energy.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

Full of self congratulation and misleading statistics, the secretary proposes to forbid the oil and gas industry from even looking off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. He claims the people there don't want activity, that there is insufficient infrastructure, and a lack of adequate data for these areas. What he fails to tell us is that such criteria go beyond the factors enumerated in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act for which he is mandated to adhere so as to "make resources available to meet the nation's energy needs." Under that statute the secretary is required to provide for an "equitable sharing" of the costs and benefits of offshore development among all the regions of the country. Instead, the secretary applied unprecedented policy criteria to negate the statutory factors.

Incredibly, by refusing to offer areas where there is insufficient infrastructure, the secretary effectively rules out any possible future offerings of frontier areas. Does he expect industry to invest in such infrastructure without any prospects of actually using it? As for Secretary Salazar's other concern regarding lack of sufficient data to justify considering Outer Continental Shelf development in certain areas, what about the 60-plus years of data gathered from exploration and development operations from a program that has served to provide enormous national economic and energy benefits? Moreover, why does he insist that private industry spend resources to gather more data in areas not included in the program? Finally, while the secretary touts his accomplishments as providing a safer regulatory environment following the BP oil spill, he somehow has determined that this new regime is inadequate to justify safe exploration of areas previously offered by both Democrat and Republican administrations.

[See a slide show of a reality check on U.S. energy sources.]

According to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, our federal offshore lands are deemed "a vital national resource reserve held by the Federal Government for the public, which should be made available for expeditious and orderly development." Unfortunately, the policy agenda of this administration has been invoked to override its fundamental responsibility to look after the well-being of the citizenry. Instead, it has opted to blindfold the nation to the extent of our natural resources and deny access to a resource that holds the promise of substantial economic benefits that are most desperately needed at this critical juncture in our history. Unfortunately, though opposed to opening the nation's offshore resources, the administration continues to help bankrupt the nation by investing in uneconomic energy projects requiring billions of taxpayer dollars that are best left in the pockets of hard working Americans.

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