McCain's Oil Drilling Hoax
Oil industry execs drive his campaign pledge
Forced to cancel a planned visit to an oil platform off the Mississippi
coast last week because of inclement weather—and the untimely leaking
of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil by a shipwreck in the
vicinity—John McCain finally got his photo op at a Bakersfield, Calif.,
derrick on July 28. Speaking on site, the Arizona
senator delivered extraordinarily good news to the beleaguered
gasoline-consuming public as he explained why we must drill offshore.
Based on briefings that Sen. McCain says he received from "the oil producers," he said, "There are some instances [that] within a matter of months they could be getting additional oil. In some cases, it would be a matter of a year. In some cases it could take longer than that, depending on the location and whether you use existing rigs or you have to install new rigs, but there's abundant resources in the view of the people who are in the business that could be exploited within a period of months."
The prospect of significant new petroleum resources
that could be available so soon would be excellent news—aside from the
obvious impact of burning still more oil—if only what the senator said
was true. But what he said actually made no sense whatsoever, as a
statement about the future development of domestic oil, the alleged
need to increase drilling off our coasts or the resources that such
drilling might produce. So
let's unpack that McCain statement (which was overshadowed by the news
that his dermatologist had just removed a small lesion from the
71-year-old melanoma survivor's right cheek).
It may be true that "existing rigs" could produce additional barrels of domestic oil immediately, whether on land or in the ocean, as Sen. McCain suggests. If so, he might want to ask his friends in the oil business why those rigs aren't producing more oil now, at prices above $120 a barrel. An existing rig by definition is a rig that is operating legally on property already leased for exploration—and can produce oil unencumbered by any environmental constraints on drilling. In case the senator doesn't understand, an existing rig is where someone has already drilled a well.
30 Million Dormant Acres Could Be Tapped Instead
companies would have to install new rigs, the question is whether a
lease already exists or whether the government would have to grant a
new lease. New drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf would mean new
leases that are now illegal.
But as the Associated Press reported last month, nearly 75% of the existing leases on federal lands held by petroleum companies are currently producing no oil. Those companies today hold nearly 30 million acres dormant, according to the AP. Nobody in the federal government even knows whether any exploration has taken place over the past decade.
Perhaps Sen. McCain should ask his friends in the industry why they aren't exploring or producing on the leases they already control. A truthful answer would be that those leases count as financial assets whether productive or not—and adding to them enhances an oil firm's bottom line.
The senator should also ask an oil company executive to step forward and explain how any new offshore oil lease can produce petroleum within the next few months or even a year. If that is possible, then the Department of Energy analysis of future domestic oil production is scandalously wrong. The department's Energy Information Agency released a study last year predicting that granting access to new offshore leases would not begin to produce any actual oil until around 2020, and would have no "significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030," if ever.
As the Republican presidential nomi
nee—and a putative environmentalist— McCain suddenly seems eager to
exploit voter discontent over high gasoline prices to promote offshore
drilling. He may even think he can ride the energy crisis into the
Voters may or may not believe the sena tor's silly claims about his "briefings" from oilmen, which mainly seem to have involved handing over a fat check. Indeed, so far the only beneficiary of his offshore drilling offensive is the McCain presidential war chest. The Washington Post recently reported that the oil industry "gushed money after [his] reversal on oil drilling" last month.
They never gave him that kind of money when he talked straight. C. 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.