Feature

The push for offshore oil

With oil and gas prices at an all-time high, offshore oil and gas drilling has once again become a contentious issue.

President Bush this week called on Congress to lift the federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, thrusting the issue into the heart of the presidential campaign. Bush had previously supported the ban on drilling on the continental shelf within 200 miles of the coast that has been in place since 1982. But citing the economic pain that has been inflicted by $4-per-gallon gas, Bush said drilling would expand the domestic oil supply and help drive down prices. “Families across America are looking to Washington for a response,” Bush said in a Rose Garden address. “There is no excuse for delay.” Bush’s initiative came just a day after Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, voiced his own support for ending the drilling ban—a reversal of his earlier position. Democrat Barack Obama opposes offshore drilling.

Oil at $135 a barrel sure is a “political motivator,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The fact that Bush and McCain have—finally—rejected the self-defeating offshore drilling ban suggests that our country—finally—may be getting its priorities straight. There is no single answer for achieving energy independence, but with up to 86 billion barrels of oil on the continental shelf—enough to supply the U.S. for eight years—increasing domestic production certainly is part of the solution. The question now is whether “public anger over $4 gas” will force Congress to “bow to that reality.”

But if McCain wants to present himself as a different kind of Republican, he’s off to a “bad start,” said the San Francisco Chronicle. Offshore drilling degrades wetlands, pollutes the water and air, and kills wildlife. Besides, we need to be weaning ourselves from oil, not feeding our habit. If nothing else, it’s now clear that McCain has no plans to seriously compete in California, a state that “enshrines beaches, blue vistas, and hard memories of past spills.”

But the last spill there, in Santa Barbara, was in 1969, said Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal. Since then, the technology of oil drilling has vastly improved, to the point where the rigs in the Gulf of Mexico didn’t spill a drop while being battered by Katrina and other hurricanes. “This is the year Americans joined the real world of energy costs. Now someone needs to explain to them why we—and we alone—are sitting on an ocean of energy but won’t drill for it.’’

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