With the Farm Bill in limbo and the Bush tax cuts about to expire and nothing useful having been done by this Congress, today they decided to pass legislation. Bear in mind that this Congress is on track to pass less legislation than any Congress since 1947 and is ranked by Americans as just slightly less reprehensible than Fidel Castro, and more obnoxious than everything else in the country including ambulance-chasing lawyers.
On Wednesday, the House of Republicans, sorry, Representatives, passed its version of an oil and gas drilling bill, revoking the Interior Department’s five year plan for off-shore drilling. The Administration’s plan was revoked on a 261 to 164 vote (seven not voting), and the Republican plan passed 253 to 170 with 25 Democrats voting for it and 5 Republicans voting against it, and nine representatives not voting.
The Interior Department’s plan called for 12 new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and three off the coast of Alaska between 2012 and 2017. The plan calls for the development of 75% of the estimated recoverable oil and natural gas reserves in the portion of the Atlantic Ocean where we have mineral jurisdiction. The Republican plan would open up an additional 14 leases, drilling off the Atlantic coast from Maine to Georgia and off California.
The Republicans say that the administration’s plan would bar drilling in 85% of America’s coast and their plan would bring in an additional $600 million (that’s MILLION with an M) over those five years and create “tens of thousands of jobs.”
A little fact checking is in order here.
There are 33,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of them are capped, but that doesn’t mean they are dry. During the BP oil crisis, a ship hit one of the capped well heads. Oil gushed 50 feet in the air before they got it recapped. There is an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil sitting under those capped well heads, 5.45 times the estimated amount of oil off the entire Atlantic Coast. The estimate of the Virginia oil reserve is 130 million barrels, the equivalent of 6 days of America’s oil usage. The 2008 estimate of oil off the coast of Maine was 18 billion barrels. The more accurate 2011 estimate is 700 million barrels, 32 days worth for the whole nation.
The United States uses 21.67 million barrels of oil a day. The Atlantic Coast oil amounts to 3.3 billion barrels. The Atlantic Coast oil is equal to 152 days of oil, not even six months worth. The known available oil sitting under those capped well heads is equal to 828.4 days, or 2 years and three months worth. But the Republican plan does nothing about the oil sitting idle in the Gulf.
There is a lie running around the conservative-sphere that says President Obama has banned oil drilling. While the right wing media screamed about the April, 2010 moratorium on deep water drilling while the existing rigs were re-inspected after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, they apparently didn’t report that the moratorium was lifted on October 13, 2010. We are currently extracting oil at the highest rate in 14 years and exporting more than we are importing – another pair of facts lost in the conservative wasteland.
From the time the Interior Department presents its plans for oil drilling leases to Congress, both houses have 60 days to pass or reject the proposal. If they fail to do so, the Interior Department’s plan goes into effect. Senate Democrats have said they will reject the House plan, and since the House has already rejected the Interior plan the Senate can vote for it on a simple majority vote, or the Senate Republicans can filibuster it. Either way, the Interior Department’s plan will go into effect.
In an ideal world where our Congress acted in the best interests of the American people, they would blackmail the oil companies into extracting all that capped-off oil in the Gulf before they get any new drilling permits, or lose all their tax breaks and subsidies. A responsible Congress would cancel any oil exploration permits and leases held on American land if nothing is being done with them and they are just acting as tax write-offs. A responsible Congress would pass an oil drilling plan that allowed the new permits to go into effect in whatever amount of time the oil companies needed to get the new wells running before that 2.25 years of oil in the Gulf is fully extracted.
Of course, in a truly ideal world, we’d stop practically giving away our oil to private companies and do what Saudi Arabia and Brunei and, yes, Venezuela do – nationalize the oil and keep all the revenue for our national treasury. They could start by canceling the leases involving those capped wells and just taking control of them. I wonder if anyone has ever figured out how much revenue that would generate?