- - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When the president announced his ban on oil drilling last month in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he deprived the nation of access to 30 billion barrels of oil now and took 10 billion barrels of oil from future generations. The trade he offered was meant to help current American energy production efforts. Or so it seemed.

In his compromise with those who want to exploit these riches now, Mr. Obama promised to open up the Atlantic Ocean seaboard from Virginia to Georgia to leases for oil and natural gas, sometime between 2017 to 2022. Maybe. The area had previously been opened to energy exploration, and he killed that in 2010. He only promised to undo what he had done. Oil producers aren’t holding their collective breath that drilling will occur soon.

Under the trade-off, energy producers lose the opportunity to extract 40 billion barrels of oil from Alaska in exchange for the hope that, years from now, the federal government might allow offshore leases in an area off the Atlantic coast that, in the most hopeful estimates, holds less than 5 billion barrels. That’s a lot of oil, but nothing like the Alaskan reserves.

It’s always possible, perhaps even likely, that the government will change its mind, and either refuse to sell rights to exploit the Atlantic oil or block the required permits for exploration. This would hurt the economy and deprive the nation of energy independence. It would be, alas, par for this administration.

Mr. Obama argues the need for American energy production, but he has reduced by 55 percent the number of oil and natural gas leases offered for sale by the federal government. The few federal lands open for drilling under the president are so burdened by regulations and tangled in so much red tape that oil production has decreased by 6 percent over the past five years, according to the American Petroleum Institute.

Mr. Obama’s decision to cut off ANWR and long stretches of the Alaskan coast from drilling, along with the refusal to open the Pacific and much of the Gulf coast to exploration, puts the country’s energy prospects in the hands of other and often unfriendly nations, unnecessarily increasing energy costs and preventing creation of American jobs. The president’s scheme is a shell game.

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