Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Congress Vacations
While Americans Suffer

Undaunted by polls showing that a majority of Americans want action to get the price of gasoline and diesel fuel down — one showing that a mere 14 percent approve of what Congress is doing on the energy issue, and another reflecting only single-digit approval levels for the national legislature — lawmakers headed out of town Friday afternoon, leaving their constituents behind suffering under high fuel prices while they take five weeks off.

The energy dilemma must be addressed, or else we will continue to be at the mercy of a tight oil market and the whims of OPEC, and the sooner we get started, the sooner we will get prices down and achieve energy independence.

Republicans want to begin oil exploration in areas that are currently prohibited by Congress, including the eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions, and underground areas, and President Bush has lifted the administrative ban against drilling in those areas. Democrat leaders vehemently oppose lifting the ban.

Part of the Democrat plan is contained in two bills, one of which is the “Drill Responsibly in Leased Lands (DRILL) Act” (H.R. 6515), and the “Responsible Federal Oil and Gas Lease Act of 2008” (H.R. 6251). West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, claims that “both bills would get the oil industry off its duff and get it to start producing oil from the 68 million acres of federal land, both onshore and offshore, for which it already possesses leases.” That’s not exactly true. H.R. 6515, commonly referred to as the “use it or lose it” bill, duplicates existing legislation; oil and gas producers already operate under binding, statutory time limits for their leases. For onshore production, the Mineral Leasing Act stipulates that an oil company must have a producing well within 10 years, or else surrender the lease, and for offshore production, the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act stipulates that an oil company must produce energy within either five or 10 years, or else surrender the lease. Efforts to enact this bill are therefore a waste of valuable Congressional time and energy.

Oil companies are exploring the unproven areas under lease, but that is a very slow, costly, and iffy process, as oil producers try to guess where in the leased areas oil can be found. Oil reserves do not exist in all leased areas, and oil producers will certainly drill many expensive “dry holes” in the attempt to find oil. Drilling in the prohibited areas is a far more certain, and therefore less expensive, process because we know there is oil in those areas, and that increases the likelihood of finding oil each time a well is drilled. Aside from trying to pass unnecessary legislation, force oil producers to explore existing leased areas, and continue to block drilling in the prohibited areas, the Democrats’ strategy for getting us to energy independence is to focus on developing alternative energy sources.

Everyone understands that we must develop alternative energy technologies, of course, but wind, solar and the other alternatives are far, far from ready to replace oil, and it will be many years before they will be able to have a significant impact on energy use.

However, alternative energy technologies have the support of environmental groups, who are interested in ending the use of carbon-based fuels immediately and unconcerned with the pain and economic damage that will cause.

The environmental lobby has a lot of money to throw into this initiative, thus a lot of influence on Capital Hill, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and a fair number of elected representatives are “sensitive” to the desires of environmental groups. They view high fuel prices as the mechanism that will finally convince Americans that we must abandon gasoline and diesel fuel in favor of cleaner technologies.

Thus, Congressional leaders are content to ignore high fuel prices, and focus on forcing the country move to alternative energy sources now. But this is a foolish concept. To paraphrase an old campaign slogan, “It’s the supply, stupid.” The key to bringing down fuel prices is increasing the supply, and when we begin aggressively going after oil in areas where we know oil exists it will send a message to the other oil producers that we are serious about increasing domestic oil production, and that puts downward pressure on oil prices, even though actual production may be a couple of years away.

On the other hand, when we delay seeking new oil and instead dilly-dally over whether or not to pass unneeded legislation and obstructing the oil companies’ search for oil, a different message goes out to the world’s oil producers, which is that the United States is hopelessly mired in a disagreement about what to do, and that enables them to continue to make life difficult for us by controlling the supply of oil on the market, keeping prices high.

Americans are suffering from high fuel prices, and want something done about it, but Congressional leaders prefer to take a vacation. The people may have the last word on Election Day.

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