Offshore drilling became a campaign issue as gasoline prices hit $4 a gallon. Public opinion polls show that not only do Americans want their elected leaders to do something about it, but they think drilling for oil on the continental shelf is a great idea.
Public opinion, however, isnt made up of enough geologists, engineers, Wall Street traders or energy policy experts to have all the facts straight.
Drilling for oil in the outer continental shelf, primarily off the coasts of California and Florida, would yield about 200,000 barrels a day, but not for 10 years, according to an Energy Information Administration analysis. Even if companies drill more oil (some estimate there's 400,000 or even 1 million barrels a day available, at current prices) or access it more quickly, there wouldnt be enough, most experts agree, to have a significant effect on prices. That said, changing the offshore drilling policy might influence the futures market in the short term, since traders react to news about impending supply and demand changes.
Drilling for oil can be done more cleanly than in the decades when offshore oil drilling was banned after a spill in California, but it still poses risk to the ocean environment. The bigger issue is what investing in new oil supply means, strategically: Is the United States of the future going to be relying on oil, or moving to renewable alternative fuels ethanol, biodiesel, electric cars and the like? If it will, then investing so much in a policy that wont affect gas prices for a decade makes no sense. If, however, America just isnt ready to give up oil, then it may be more ethical to drill for it here than to outsource the environmental risk.
President Bush already lifted an executive ban on offshore drilling, so all that remains in the way, legally, is Congress. Therefore, the next president would be able to affect change only by throwing around political weight.
Offshore drilling holds the No. 1 position in John McCains energy policy and stump speech. Drill here now is a common refrain.
Obama would accept offshore drilling only as part of a compromise to achieve broader energy policy goals, which include massive investments in renewable and alternative energy.
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.