The current debate over exploration and possible recovery of oil and/or natural gas from remote regions of Alaska and the Outer Continental Shelf is remarkable for the simple fact that we are even having the debate in the first place.

Given the fundamental importance of an adequate and affordable supply of energy, the United States should aggressively pursue new sources of oil and natural gas, particularly when those resources can be extracted in an environmentally safe manner. Failure to do so is simply reckless, as our unwillingness to develop our own resources places us at economic risk, jeopardizes our national security, and contributes to environmental damage in other parts of the globe.

Like it or not, our society cannot function without substantial supplies of oil and gas. Our prosperity and safety depend upon these resources, and although we may one day have the technology to replace them with other sources of energy, reality for the next decade or so is that we must find and extract more oil and gas. 

Unfortunately, American public policy over the past 30 years has ignored this fundamental fact, and as a result, we have become too dependent on foreign supply. Instead of providing for our own needs, we subject ourselves to the whims of global commodity markets, more often than not controlled by individuals and countries that wish us economic or physical harm. What sense is there in that kind of public policy?

The facts speak for themselves. In 1985, only 25 percent of the oil we used was imported while75 percent was produced domestically. Today, those numbers have flipped as we import nearly 70 percent of our consumption needs. We pay countries with hostile regimes nearly $700 billion annually for a resource we know is plentiful within our boundaries. These payments represent one of the greatest transfers of wealth in the history of mankind. Recently, I heard one television commentator say that three days’ revenue for either Saudi Arabia or Iran would be enough to buy General Motors. Chilling.

Opponents of drilling have no answer to questions regarding the wisdom of funding our enemies. Instead, they point to environmental concerns and safety. These arguments are disingenuous. 
Can we argue that the extraction of oil and natural gas is perfectly safe? Not quite — but it is pretty close. Technological advances and a heavy dose of government regulation make the American petrochemical industry the safest and cleanest in the world. Since 1980, drilling in the United States has a .001 percent pollution rate. Other countries and even the Earth herself fall well short of that performance level.

For perspective, Mother Earth is 95 times dirtier than man. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), the earth naturally emits 620,500 barrels of oil every year from North America’s ocean floors compared to the average 6,555 barrels that oil companies have spilled annually since 1998. And while storms are always a concern — and some spills did result from hurricanes Katrina and Rita — the fact that 3,050 offshore structures endured these storms without a major spill is a testament to the sound operations of this industry. 

When such emergencies arise, lines are capped beneath the ocean floor, effectively sealing oil and gas well below the earth’s surface. In fact, the MMS stated that “losses were mostly limited to the oil stored on platforms that were damaged or oil contained in individual segments of pipelines that were damaged,” and noted “there were no accounts of spills from facilities on the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf) that reached the shoreline, or oiled birds or mammals, or involved any large volumes of oil to be collected or cleaned up.” The MMS further concluded, “due to the prompt evacuation and shut-in preparations made by operating and service personnel, there was no loss of life and no major oil spills attributed to either storm.” Such an evaluation should give confidence to the largest of skeptics.

Additionally, no one can dispute that American safety technologies and regulations make it much more environmentally sound to explore and drill here rather than rely on countries with more lax regulations. Just one of our suppliers, Nigeria, is politically unstable, prone to environmental damage from oil operations, and horribly abusive to the workers in the oil fields. It is time to tell it like it is — those who oppose drilling effectively ally themselves with oppressive governments, support environmentally irresponsible drilling ,and transportation of oil and gas in those countries, threaten the prosperity of all Americans and prop up foreign regimes who, given the chance, would do grievous harm to this country and her citizens.

The energy crisis is adversely impacting every facet of our lives and economy — transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, and everything in between. While we agree that conservation and continued research and development of renewable and alternative forms of energy are also essential to becoming more energy independent, this transformation will not happen overnight. Let’s start using common sense and take control of our own destiny for a change. It’s time to Bury the Ban and lift the moratorium on exploration and drilling. 

Lewis Gossett is president/CEO of the S.C. Manufacturers Alliance and serves as chairman of Citizens for Sound Conservation, a non-partisan not-for-profit organization dedicated to improving our environmental and economic quality of life.