August 15, 2008
By Ben Lieberman
It's true: Hundreds of promising oil leases on federal lands are
being stonewalled, contributing to lower supplies and higher prices
at the pump. But the blame lies not with the oil companies, but
with environmental activists.
Much of America's energy potential lies underneath federally
controlled lands and waters, but some of those areas are off-limits
to oil exploration and drilling. In response to high gasoline
prices, several Washington lawmakers want to open these areas,
including some of the 85 percent of our territorial waters that are
restricted, as well as a small portion of Alaska's Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Polls show that the public endorses this
step, but the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate,
fearing a loss of support from anti-drilling environmental
activists, has thus far blocked these measures.
Their argument? The oil companies don't need new leases in
restricted areas because they aren't diligently pursuing leases in
areas that are currently open to them. "Why should we be giving big
oil additional leases when they have 68 million acres under lease
already that they're not drilling on right now?" House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi asked.
Sounds damning. But the charge of industry dawdling is totally
without support, and proponents of the "use it or lose it" bills
that seek to punish delays have yet to produce a single credible
example of an oil company dragging its feet on a green-lighted
In many cases, there isn't any energy to be found. Dry holes
happen, and just because the law allows drilling somewhere is no
guarantee of success. However, plenty of leases are sitting atop
oil that's likely to remain underground for years, and perhaps
permanently. The culprits are environmental activists and their
delaying tactics, including several instances in the past few weeks
For example, a lease sale was recently held in New Mexico
involving 78 parcels. Environmentalists immediately protested all
78. These protests are one of the first, but by no means the last
step that green groups can take to try to stop oil and natural gas
production. If past is prologue, subsequent delays and litigation
will prevent this energy from reaching the market by many years,
and may kill off these projects entirely.
At the same time, energy production in northwestern Colorado was
shut down, thanks to activists exploiting the nearly impossible
paperwork requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). This
time, it's the black-footed ferret, but more than 1,000 other
listed species means many leases are in or near the potential
habitat for at least one of them. Whether shutting down a
significant part of Colorado's energy production really benefits
the ferrets is an open question, but useful or not, such shutdowns
are common. And the ESA is only one of many tools in the
anti-energy activists' arsenal.
In each case, the oil companies are the ones fighting delays,
not causing them. Such battles are becoming more common.
"Protests of leases have risen from 167 per year from 1997-2000
to 1,180 per year from 2001-2007 -- a 706 percent increase,"
according to Daniel Kish, vice president of the Institute for
Energy Research. "Unless this is stopped, any efforts to access
land for energy will be meaningless."
Thus, we have an anti-energy double whammy when it comes to
domestic production. There are vast energy-rich areas that are
completely off limits, and there are others that are subject to
spools of red tape that environmental activists can use to stall or
even preclude production.
But rather then streamline these provisions, along with opening
up the restricted areas, Democrats and their don't-drill-anywhere
allies would rather spin conspiracy theories about big oil sitting
on their rights -- and ignore the real reason that more domestic
energy isn't coming online.
Ben Lieberman is
senior policy analyst for energy and environment in the Thomas A.
Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage
First appeared on foxnews.com
It’s true: Hundreds of promising oil leases on federal lands are being stonewalled, contributing to lower supplies and higher prices at the pump. But the blame lies not with the oil companies, but with environmental activists.
Senior Policy Analyst, Energy and Environment
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