- - Monday, July 23, 2012

When the Interior Department released its five-year plan for our nation’s offshore energy resources late last month, it revealed that President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy excludes new areas for offshore natural gas and oil. The plan for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) fails to open access to any new areas on the East and West coasts and unnecessarily delays sales in Alaska, putting the nation further behind other countries that are expanding their offshore energy industries.

Fortunately, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, Washington Republican, is advancing legislation to fix the plan by expanding access to the OCS. My organization supports the legislation because the United States — thanks to a domestic energy boom driven by new exploration and drilling techniques mainly on state and private lands — realistically can set a course to dramatically reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil. The administration’s plan stands in the way because it leaves new offshore opportunities sidelined until 2017.

This is frustrating news for Americans, who time and time again hear the same empty promises about tapping into domestic energy resources when gas prices rise at the pump but never see follow-through. It’s worse for many of the millions of unemployed Americans who would jump at the opportunities the offshore energy industry and the sectors that support it could provide if only given a chance to find out how much oil and natural gas we have off our coasts.

Inexplicably, the new plan even restricts access to offshore Virginia, which was included in the previous five-year plan. This step backward flies in the face of bipartisan support for offshore development from the Old Dominion’s U.S. senators, its governor, a majority of the congressional delegation and the state legislature. Meanwhile, new land-based natural gas and oil operations in states such as North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas are supporting tens of thousands of new jobs in each state while providing much-needed new revenue to local and state governments. While the nation’s unemployment rate hovers above 8 percent, the oil and gas industry in North Dakota is actively seeking workers in a state that has an unemployment rate of about 3 percent.

States such as Virginia and South Carolina see what’s happening in other parts of the country and ask, “Why not us?” The key difference is that the energy boom in the nation’s interior is taking place on state-owned and private land. In fact, over the past year, oil production on federal lands and waters is down 14 percent, including 17 percent in the Gulf of Mexico.

If this proposed final plan moves forward without modifications from Congress, our country’s energy future will be worsened. It will hamper efforts to reduce our reliance on imported oil, and much-needed jobs won’t be created. Producing what we have offshore would generate as much as $1.3 trillion over the life of the resource for government at all levels. Leaving much of this out of the picture simply makes no sense. It’s not too late to change course. The Natural Resources Committee quickly passed Mr. Hastings’ legislation last week, as should the full House and the Senate. There’s no time to waste.

Randall Luthi is president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

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