- The Washington Times - Monday, August 8, 2011

Paying less for gasoline these days? If only. Most Americans are paying more. Why? After all, when President Obama ordered the release of 30 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) on June 24, White House spokesman Jay Carney pointed out that demand usually rises in the summer. The hope, clearly, was that releasing the extra oil would cause prices to drop or at least level off.

How administration officials thought that might happen is a mystery. The amount released from the SPR totaled less than two days’ worth of domestic oil consumption. It was little more than a blip. Even if there had been an actual emergency that justified tapping the SPR - and there wasn’t - it proved to be weak political theater, not smart energy policy.

If the Obama administration were serious about lowering gasoline prices, it would immediately lift the moratorium it placed on deep-water drilling. It’s been more than a year since that order went into effect, and since then, 10 oil rigs have left the Gulf of Mexico. Where did they go? They’re off helping other countries - including Egypt, Congo, French Guiana, Liberia, Nigeria and Brazil - find oil.

Meanwhile, Americans are stuck paying a national average gas price of $3.67. A year ago, that average was $2.77 - nearly a dollar cheaper.

Retrieving those rigs won’t be easy. “It’s going to be difficult to move them back once they are drilling in, say, Nigeria or Brazil,” Heritage Foundation research fellow David Kreutzer points out. “The oil companies must have confidence they can move forward with their drilling plans and to know these plans won’t be revoked. Only certainty will bring them back.”

The moratorium also kept eight other rigs that would have been located in the Gulf from coming there in the first place. Goodbye to all the jobs we might have had - which would have been very helpful at a time when the unemployment rate exceeds 9 percent.

Speaking of jobs, the moratorium has been especially harmful to Louisiana’s economy. Not only big companies are affected, either. “There are small businesses that do a lot of services for the rigs, and they have been set back,” said Renee Baker, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. “We just want to see people get back to work.” That won’t happen, though, under a pro-moratorium policy.

Untapped oil isn’t found only in the Gulf. There are vast reserves in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) - between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That means ANWR could provide an average of nearly a million barrels a day, every day, for several decades.

But current law places that oil off-limits. An administration that claims it’s concerned about gas prices hasn’t lifted a finger to change it.

Critics tell us that extracting the oil in this area could spoil huge tracts of natural wilderness. In fact, we’d be drilling on a mere 2,000 acres out of the 19 million that make up ANWR. And today’s advanced equipment makes a light environmental “footprint,” as we can see from the plentiful herds of caribou that live by the drilling in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay.

It’s not just oil. About 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is located beneath our waters. Yet this valuable energy, too, is senselessly being kept out of reach. Why?

Some energy policy: Americans are being forced to pay high prices at the pump and an administration is deliberately withholding vast amounts of oil from them. Who’s in the driver’s seat, anyway?

Ed Feulner is president of the Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).