Another year has passed without any drilling for oil and natural gas in the resource-rich waters off the Atlantic Coast.
Now is the time to recognize the value of offshore drilling and the substantial revenue and thousands of jobs it supports. We should accept the idea that properly managed oil and natural gas production on the Outer Continental Shelf is essential for our economic well-being and security.
The United States — and the world — needs more energy. But a staggering 94 percent of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf is off-limits to oil and natural gas production, including the entire Atlantic Coast.
The fact is, we are utilizing only a very small part of our potential reserves: the estimated 89.9 billion barrels of oil and 327.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that has yet to be discovered in offshore federal waters. The consequence of this policy is that we import more oil to make up for less domestic production.
Oil and natural gas account for about two-thirds of the energy used in the United States, and it is unrealistic to think we won’t need more oil and gas in the future.
The Energy Information Administration projects that global demand for oil and natural gas will continue to grow over the next 30 years.
Opening more offshore areas to oil and natural gas drilling would have major upsides. It would help reduce oil imports from unstable, hostile and faraway countries. Increased world production is needed to prevent Saudi Arabia and Russia from tightening the lid on production and raising oil prices.
Atlantic offshore production would provide a hedge against the possibility of something unforeseen such as war in the Persian Gulf shutting down oil production. Gasoline prices would soar. So would the cost of fuel oil.
Opponents of offshore drilling should consider the plight of millions of people on modest incomes who would have to choose between heating their homes or putting food on the table.
Almost 30 percent of global oil production comes from offshore deposits. Worldwide natural gas output from offshore resources has risen by 50 percent since 2000. More than a dozen other countries are pursuing offshore oil and gas production, ranging from Brazil, Mexico and Jamaica to Norway, China and Russia.
Based on our success with drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, one great advantage of exploring new offshore areas is the potential to discover an enormous amount of oil and natural gas and produce it from a single platform. Many of the largest deposits, those that can be produced most efficiently, are discovered in ultra-deep waters.
The oil industry is improving drilling through fundamental changes. Standardized designs are making drilling more efficient, less expensive and less likely to suffer costly delays.
A wide range of advanced technologies, including robotics and drones, is now making it possible to find and produce oil and natural gas far from shore. This is being done safely and efficiently, without damaging the marine environment.
We would be remiss not to use this opportunity to make greater use of our own offshore resources and transfer some of the revenue from leasing and production into modernizing badly neglected parts of our infrastructure like port facilities, bridges and high-speed rail.
What’s more, a portion of the offshore revenues from oil and natural gas development provides almost all of the funding for preservation of federal public lands and waters under the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Offshore oil and natural gas production is a vital source of funds for this important program.
It should be clearer than ever that we can no longer afford to place potentially large oil and gas resources off-limits — not when our economic and national security depends on access to them. Congress must make the timely leasing of Atlantic offshore areas a strategic goal.
Dr. J. Winston Porter is a national energy and environmental consultant based in Atlanta, Ga., and previously, he was an EPA assistant administrator in Washington, D.C.
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