You may have already seen this ad broadcast or on YouTube, and while TreeHugger generally tries to stay above the political fray, this latest attack ad from John McCain's campaign warrants some comment.
Ignoring the obviously fallacious implication that Barrack Obama personally has anything at all to do with rising energy costs over the past year, let's deconstruct the ad. Just what's at stake offshore and will drilling there do anything which John McCain claims it will?
How much oil are we not drilling?
According to the US Geologic Survey the United States has "undiscovered conventional recoverable resources" of 17.8 billion barrels in areas offshore which are currently off limits to drilling. Keep in mind that all that means is that the underlying geology indicates that there possibly could be that much oil. Exploration would have to be done to determine how much of that is actually there.
How long before that oil reaches the market?
According to the Energy Information Administration, this oil would not have an impact on domestic oil or natural gas production until 2030, as leasing for these areas, once opened for drilling, would not begin until 2012, and production would not begin until 2017. Summing up, the EIA said, "Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."
What are we not drilling, that we could under current law?
Adding a twist in the 'should we open up offshore areas to oil drilling?' discussion is the fact that, according to the Mineral Management Service, 33.5 million acres of the outer continental shelf is currently under lease for oil exploration, but not being drilled. This is a bit less than three times the amount that is under lease offshore and being drilled.
Legislation to force oil companies to develop these areas or lose their leases, failed to win approval in Congress last week.
So how does all of this compare to daily U.S. oil demand?
Do the math: Current U.S. daily oil demand is slightly less than 21 million barrels. If all of the offshore oil reserves currently off limits were proven, it would total a between two and three years of current U.S. demand. Though obviously this wouldn't be the entirety of U.S. oil supply, by one estimate if this oil were introduced into the U.S. market it would add approximately 250,000 barrels a day by 2030.
In short, drilling offshore will do virtually nothing for US energy independence, nor reduce the price consumers pay for gasoline—Despite any claims by John McCain to the contrary.
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