For nearly forty years, oil rigs have been safely drawing natural resources from the depths of the earth’s crust in the Gulf of Mexico. Up until the tragic explosion on the Deepwater Horizon in April, oil and gas development off the Gulf Coast has been conducted without major incident. The resulting oil spill and the response by both the administration and the companies involved have justifiably frustrated many who are concerned about the environmental and economic impacts. This accident could have far-reaching consequences, and we can all agree that proper safeguards must be in place to prevent another catastrophe from happening again.
However, I strongly disagree with those in Congress and in the administration who are calling for a drastic – and economically destructive – change in our energy policy in response to the oil spill. This devastating but isolated incident must not result in an end to offshore energy exploration and development. Oil and gas remain a critical part of a balanced domestic energy portfolio.
Unfortunately, President Obama signaled a troubling shift in policy when he recently announced he will extend a moratorium on all deepwater drilling off our nation’s coasts for six months and even shallow water drilling for some period, as well. Delaying access to all Gulf water drilling places some of our most resource rich assets out of reach. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico alone accounts for about 30 percent of domestic oil and 13 percent of natural gas production. Of those abundant resources in the Gulf of Mexico, 70 percent of oil and 36 percent of natural gas are drawn from deepwater wells. Shallow water drilling poses little threat because the wells are more easily reached if a problem occurs.
Placing those resources off limits undercuts our domestic supply of energy, which will result in higher energy costs for all Americans. It also threatens thousands of jobs associated with oil and gas development along the Gulf Coast. Some of these jobs will move overseas; some will never return. Furthermore, cutting off significant portions of our domestic resources places our national energy security at risk and could force us to increasingly rely on the costly oil of foreign regimes that do not have our best interests at heart.
With steep economic and national security considerations at stake, we cannot afford to significantly deplete our domestic resources. Instead, we should take what we learn from the extensive investigations into the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill and apply those lessons to technical and procedural advancements in the oil and gas industry. Government oversight should be improved. Guided by common sense, we can put into place a plan to restore domestic oil and gas production in the United States in the safest manner possible.
As well as improving technology and adopting more stringent safety measures, we should to look at other energy resources that aren’t presently being utilized or are underemphasized in our energy portfolio. Our most valuable untapped resource is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). It has even more potential than the Gulf of Mexico. This remote frozen tundra could be drilled with minimal impact on surrounding life. ANWR is the size of South Carolina and the area drilled would be roughly the size of Dallas Love Field Airport. The majority of Alaskans support drilling in ANWR and welcome the jobs and economic growth it would bring to their communities. Federal law, however, places ANWR’s estimated 10.4 billion barrels of oil under lock and key.
The Deepwater Horizon incident also shows the importance of a comprehensive energy policy that is not limited to a single industry. In the event that a given source of energy is taken offline for any reason, we must be able to rely on other sources to fuel our vehicles and power our homes and businesses. Nuclear power is a clean, efficient, and inexpensive energy resource that should play an important role in America’s energy future. Solar power, wind energy, and advanced biofuels will also expand our energy portfolio and provide alternative resources to further ease our reliance on foreign fuel. Emphasizing these industries will also create stable, lucrative jobs for American workers.
It can be human nature to react impulsively to a challenge as significant and daunting as the Gulf Coast oil spill. But human nature and common sense, unfortunately, are not always synonymous. It is important that our response be prudent and thoughtful. We should take the opportunity to learn from the mistakes that were made and find ways to improve our existing energy policy. I believe calls to halt offshore drilling are reckless and would be detrimental to our economy and our long-term energy security.
Kay Bailey Hutchison is the senior U.S. Senator from Texas and is the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.