Good news from Washington: The Senate just passed a narrowly focused bill that would open 8.3 million acres for new energy development in the Gulf of Mexico. A hundred miles off Florida, it is called Sale 181 Area, and may contain as much as 1.2 billion barrels of oil.
The House has its own, even more ambitious version: It would expand the drilling to most of the continental shelf off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist rammed the Senate’s bill through during the remaining time for legislation this year, with no amendments.
Hyped to “enhance the energy independence and security of the United States,” the bill will be sold to the public as an answer to our problems. And some people will believe it.
It seems the Bush administration’s attitude is to convince the people that we can deal with our oil gluttony if we just focus on drilling the last reservoirs of oil under our control. This blind charge doomed any Senate discussion of sensible provisions to address our addiction to oil, leaving only a misguided attempt to feed it.
As dictated by Frist, there were no amendments offered for stringent fuel-efficiency standards for cars, which could drastically reduce imports. Try for a 40-miles-per-gallon average, rather than the current 21 miles per gallon. That would save the import of some 4 million barrels a day, much of it from you know who.
Unfortunately, there was no discussion of repealing the royalty-relief program for energy companies, which are currently taking our oil for free. Traditionally, the royalty the companies are supposed to pay the government is one-sixth, or 16 percent, of the selling price of oil. The relief from this payment was intended to encourage expensive deep drilling in our dwindling Gulf of Mexico reserves. In truth, it is a government giveaway to energy developers of, over the next five years, $7 billion in royalties that belong to you and me.
And who’s making record profits? In this last quarter alone, the windfall goes to Exxon Mobil ($10 billion), ConocoPhillips ($5 billion), and BP ($7 billion). We pay for it at the gas pump. That’s simply outrageous.
And far beyond the imagination _ much less discussion _ of most senators is the development of renewable energy for long-term sustainability. The senators could at least have extended the modest production tax credit for wind energy, which ends next year. But no. Not in this bill.
Better to drill for the dwindling reserves, feed the profits, and get elected again.
A billion barrels sounds like a lot of oil. But consider it in relation to our import of 11 million barrels a day. Just suppose this new Gulf area could be magically producing at a rate equal to these foreign imports: The production would last about 110 days! Or, more plausibly, if pumped at a rate of just one million barrels a day, the oil would last for about 3 1/2 years.
So what’s next? I’m concerned about an inconvenient conclusion.
Remember Denmark? In 1973 it generated 90 percent of its electricity from imported oil. Never again. Now not only are the Danes energy-self-sufficient, but they also export 50 percent of their oil, 30 percent of their natural gas, and 19 percent of their electrical energy.
And remember wind energy? The wind is free and plentiful, and not subject to cutoff. Denmark is the leader in the generation of wind energy, and also in the manufacturing and technology of wind turbines.
Where do you think the five big wind turbines here in Massachusetts were made? You guessed it: Denmark.
So here we sit in the shadow of unhealthful emissions from the Cape Cod Canal power plant, which consumes about 8 million barrels of oil a year.
That’s almost two days’ production from all the oil wells in the continental United States. And our Sen. Edward Kennedy and Rep. William Delahunt are doing all they can to kill the country’s first offshore wind farm, proposed for Nantucket Sound. This facility could replace 2 million barrels of that imported oil to generate pollution-free electricity and no global warming.
Unfortunately, many members of Congress feel compelled to drain the last of Mother Earth’s oil in a fleeting feast of fun in big cars and energy-company record profits, to ensure their election for another term. With little view of the future and the impact of global warming, they will quickly burn through our remaining resources, which should be saved and stringently parceled out by future generations.
It remains to be seen what the compromise oil-drilling bill will look like after the summer recess is over. But the oil companies will undoubtedly be delighted.
So, do you still think we can drill our way out? Think again. I just ordered my Prius.
(Charles W. Kleekamp, a retired engineer, is vice president of Clean Power Now, a nonprofit group promoting construction of Cape Wind, the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm off the coasts of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.)