Americans Should Embrace This Energy Opportunity

Earlier this year, protesters descended on public meetings held throughout the country on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Draft Proposed Program for offshore leasing. The protesters’ demands for a fossil fuel-free world, and their restrictive vision for America’s energy future, may only serve to limit our nation’s potential.

The fact is that energy demands in the U.S. continue to grow and will need an “all of the above” energy approach to meet our needs. A recently released report from the U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts that, even with a significant increase of alternative energy sources, including offshore wind, fossil fuels will still supply nearly 80 percent of U.S. energy consumption in 2050.

Outside of the U.S., fossil fuels will also shoulder a 28 percent surge in energy demand from an ascending global middle class, supplying about 77 percent of global energy demand in 2050, according to a separate EIA report. Shutting the door to U.S. energy production will only open the door to foreign oil dependency.

Take the state of California for example. Despite political rhetoric, it may come as a surprise that over the last 35 years, California’s imports of foreign crude oil have increased significantly. This is a staggering surge in demand for oil that Californians have zero say in how it is produced.

Where this oil comes from may be even more surprising. In 2017, 28 percent of California’s oil imports – 98 million barrels – came from Saudi Arabia.  A back-of-the-envelope calculation, using the average annual Brent Price for oil in 2017, shows that this was about $5.3 billion worth of oil.

Sending American money abroad to buy energy we can produce more safely and efficiently here at home has a significant impact on national security. Shouldn’t Californians, and Americans in general, feel more comfortable with energy produced in California than energy imported from Saudi Arabia?  

California is not the only state whose denial of smart energy policy has led it to more foreign imports. This winter, Massachusetts imported “unprecedented” amounts of Russian liquefied natural gas from a $27 billion gas export plant on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. This massive facility was built and runs without the responsibilities and regulations that U.S. energy production requires. There have been serious environmental concerns about the facility, including possible disruptions to white toothed whales, a near-threatened species, and the potential killings of seal mothers and pups by icebreakers – concerns that are readily addressed by U.S. regulations but not Russian ones.

Not only would an increase of domestic offshore energy production mean less money sent abroad to countries, it would also mean real jobs and real economic growth in America. Recent studies commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute predict that within 20 years after initial offshore leasing, the offshore industry could generate hundreds of thousands of direct, indirect and induced jobs, hundreds of billions of dollars of spending, and billions of dollars in new state and federal government revenue.

A popular rallying cry of anti-fossil fuel protesters is that offshore energy development and environmental conservation cannot coexist. To the contrary, history and experience have shown that responsible energy development and rich ecosystems are not mutually exclusive. There is a very good reason why Louisiana, a pro-fossil fuel state, is known as a “sportsman’s paradise.”  You can find some of America’s richest fishing grounds in offshore Louisiana.

Local recreational fishers know to drop a line alongside any offshore production platform, which teem with marine life. When production ceases, this marine life continues to thrive on selected decommissioned platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, through the Rigs to Reefs program, which could be a very natural fit for platforms in offshore California and perhaps even off the Atlantic states in decades to come.

You can also find some of the best beaches in the world along the Gulf Coast. For six years in a row, Alabama set a new record in annual tourism expenditures, with nearly one-quarter of visitors heading to the state’s famous sugar-white sand beaches. These beaches are located just a few miles from America’s offshore energy breadbasket.

Energy demand, including fossil fuel demand, will continue to increase at home and globally. Instead of abandoning U.S. innovation and U.S. energy production in favor of imports from countries like Saudi Arabia and Russia, Americans should welcome the chance to keep jobs, economic growth and energy production at home.

This is an ideal offshore energy opportunity, which can expand America’s existing oil and natural gas program while still coexisting with offshore wind and other renewables. This is a plan that every American should support.


Randall Luthi is the president of the National Ocean Industries Association.

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