We need to drill here, we need to drill now

Rep. Dan Burton Contributor
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While Congressional leaders in Washington are diligently working to keep our government open, thousands across North Africa and the Middle East are fighting to close their governments down.

Dictators are being thrown from their palaces by the masses. What started in Tunisia has spread to Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Libya. I certainly hope the demand for democracy spreads to the streets of Iran. February 2011 may be remembered in history as a time of rebirth, but I am concerned that the unrest we are witnessing could imperil our own national security. The region known as the cradle of civilization is a major source of the energy that fuels our nation. As it stands today, if we were to find ourselves cut off from this source, the results would be crippling. This rapidly mounting peril has been compounded by the Obama administration’s insistence on sticking to its moratoriums currently in place for drilling and cultivating our domestic oil and natural gas resources. It is unacceptable that we run the risk of facing unprecedented hikes in energy costs because of our dependence on foreign energy.

The United States uses approximately 21 million barrels of oil every day, according to the American Enterprise Institute. Currently, the price of a barrel of oil hovers around $100. If the supply of oil is disrupted by any one of these interim governments that is popping up in the Middle East, it is possible the price of oil could double or even triple. We must act now to develop our own oil and gas resources as well as develop alternative sources of energy, but that will take time.

It is unconscionable that America is not energy independent; even worse, laws, regulations and policies have been enacted that obstruct our ability to be energy independent. Unfortunately, as a nation, we have done little over the last 40 years to make sure that oil could not be used as a weapon against us, and that puts the U.S. in jeopardy.

The president continues to restrict and prohibit the safe exploration and extraction of our domestic energy sources. As a result, the oil and natural gas reserves found in Alaska, off the continental shelf and elsewhere in the U.S. remain untouched. The oil shale deposits that could yield trillions of barrels of oil remain unused. This kind of thinking keeps our nation in servitude to the oil-rich countries of the Middle East and slows our economy’s recovery.

Like it or not, even if there was an electric GM Volt parked in every U.S. garage or a solar panel on every roof, our economy would still need oil and natural gas. They keep our factories running, aircraft flying, trucks on the road, and homes and schools heated.

Our economy was crippled by the oil embargoes of the 1970s; I fear we may be headed down a similar path today. In 1972, we imported 28% of our oil from foreign countries. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s most recent figures, 62% of the oil consumed in the United States in 2009 came from other countries — more than double what it was in 1972. We are becoming more and more dependent on foreign energy. Perpetuating our dependence on foreign oil weakens our nation. We are exposing ourselves to the whims of oil-rich governments, many of whom are not friends or allies of the United States.

From Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, and a whole host of other domestic locales scattered in between, we have the ability to become energy independent. Within our borders, we have the capability to stop importing oil from what has become an increasingly hostile environment. The reality is that we are now compromising the security of our nation as a result of our inability to adapt our energy policies to the rapidly changing realities of the 21st century.

Every American should be outraged that we continue to invest billions of dollars in foreign oil, especially when we have the energy products right here in this country. I support developing alternative sources of energy — wind, solar and nuclear — but that will take a great deal of time. We need to drill for domestic oil and gas now. We don’t have the luxury of time. Expanding domestic drilling represents the only form of renewable energy of which I am personally aware that already has the tools, infrastructure, and scale to address this crisis now and can rapidly move us toward energy independence. We have the technology and expertise to drill safely. We should no longer be held hostage to special interest groups and foreign governments that have successfully kept us from developing our own oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear resources.

The Obama administration is sitting on its hands, and this country is crying out for action, not only for energy independence and for lower gas prices but for a solution to the economic problems that face this country. I would like to see Congress and President Obama make a top priority the adoption of a comprehensive energy strategy that not only promotes renewable and alternative energy technologies but uses the resources we already have — oil and gas. Such a plan will not only lower these out-of-control energy prices quickly and produce thousands of high-paying jobs but, most importantly, provide Americans with energy independence as well as enhanced national security.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, is the third most senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a senior member of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.