Just as America marked the first anniversary of the president’s blanket moratorium on all deepwater oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, we learned exactly how his administration manipulated its regulators to keep oil drilling idle for more than a year.
For months, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar used the Deepwater Horizon tragedy as the single excuse for his agency’s failure to issue permits for new oil exploration in the Gulf. But a new Oversight and Government Reform Committee report tells a different story.
It’s all about political will.
Ignoring key evidence and input from hundreds of energy exploration experts, Mr. Salazar suspended drilling on 33 deepwater wells and banned new drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico. Mr. Salazar claimed that the moratorium had the backing of a panel of experts that the Obama administration had put together. But the report points to an “important White House official [who] changed the safety report [and] created the misleading appearance of scientific peer review.”
The report also noted the administration’s reckless disregard for the 400,000 Gulf Coast workers either directly or indirectly employed by the oil and gas industry. Rebecca Blank, the undersecretary at the Department of Commerce, testified that the administration never once studied the economic impact the moratorium would have on the Gulf Coast economy and on oil production.
Are we really expected to believe that the administration’s ongoing de facto moratorium on oil exploration in the Gulf is because of one drilling rig accident — one out of 42,000 drilling rig operations in the last 60 years? Of course not. Prohibiting all drilling and exploratory activities is akin to banning all airplanes because of one crash.
Clearly, the president hopes that banning oil exploration in the Gulf will decrease America’s energy demand by making gas more expensive. But it’s not working out that way.
The administration’s de facto moratorium on oil exploration in the Gulf has resulted in a complete reversal from where we were one year ago: Domestic production was at an all-time high for the sixth year in a row; U.S. reliance on the Middle East lessened as oil imports from the region declined to less than 18 percent; and Americans were paying $2.86 per gallon for gas.
The Obama-Salazar “let them drive hybrids” mentality is indicative of the disconnect between the White House and the public. There are 250 million cars in this country that don’t run on electricity from solar or wind; they run on oil. And because this president won’t let us drill for oil in the Gulf, there’s less of it — and American drivers are paying the price at the pump.
Safety is no longer an issue. Oil rig operators have already demonstrated that they can contain a BP-sized blowout. Yet the administration has issued just one permit to drill in the Gulf of Mexico in the last 12 months. And one year later, the Interior Department is still mulling applications to resume previously approved, previously permitted and previously drilled wells.
As gas prices skyrocketed, the president feigned concessions by re-opening Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserves (NPR-A) to lease sales … that no one wants. The Bureau of Land Management offered 1.8 million acres last year and received bids on just 28,444 acres.
As if that’s not enough insult to injury, the president then said he would create a new team to expedite permits for approved drilling plans in the NPR-A — not the Gulf of Mexico, not for today’s Gulf lease holders, not for last year’s previously approved and permitted wells.
If the president truly wants to cut our dependence on foreign oil, reduce gas prices and create jobs, he could direct Interior Secretary Salazar to clear the backlog of oil exploration permit applications in the Gulf and expedite plans going forward.
But the president doesn’t want that. And that’s the point.
Jim Adams is the president and CEO of the Offshore Marine Service Association, which represents the owners and operators of U.S. flag offshore service vessels and the shipyards and other businesses that support that industry.