The Problems with Offshore Drilling
By Ben Moore

There are a few principal facts you won’t hear the proponents of offshore drilling talk about, but they should be front and center in the discussion of whether our state should support lifting the current moratorium on drilling for oil and natural gas off of our coast.

It is no surprise that high gas prices have made offshore drilling a hot topic of late, but unfortunately these two issues have little to do with one another. The Bush administration’s own Department of Energy has concluded that lifting the moratorium would have no significant impact on gas prices or our dependence on foreign oil.

The primary reason is the small amount of oil and gas currently off limits. In the context of the global market, the impact of this drop in the bucket on world supply would be minimal. As a result, proponents of offshore drilling cling to the hope that future market speculation will drive prices down, but Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has dismissed that possibility.

Another inconvenient truth undermining the supposed need for lifting this moratorium is the vast amount of acreage already being leased by oil companies that isn’t being utilized to produce more oil. A recent Congressional study concluded there are 68 million acres of federal land already under lease to oil companies — yet these lands are sitting idle.

Both the DOE study and the U.S. House of Representatives study point out that 80 percent of all the oil and natural gas reserves on the eastern seaboard is available for leasing and production today. Why then should we drill in the most environmentally sensitive areas under the moratorium before taking advantage of what is already available?

Finally, proponents of offshore drilling claim technological advances have made this industry safe. Many cite Hurricane Katrina as the proof. But according to U.S. Coast Guard statistics, more than seven million gallons of oil spilled from offshore operations and the onshore facilities associated with this industry as a result of Katrina. More recently, a major spill of over 400,000 gallons of oil this summer closed over 100 miles of the Mississippi River for weeks.

Consider how just one accident of the sort that still occurs in the Gulf of Mexico might affect South Carolina’s tourism industry, responsible for 11 percent of the state’s jobs and $15 billion in annual revenues.

As we continue to debate the merits of offshore drilling, it is critical that we remember credible studies have found there will be no impact on gas prices if the moratorium is lifted, there are enormous oil and natural gas reserves now controlled by industry that are not being utilized, and the threats this industry poses for tourism, our coastal communities and our natural environment are enormous.

Ben Moore is the climate and energy program director for the Coastal Conservation League.