Needed: a Serious Debate about Energy Supply

By July 14, 2008Energy

In recent weeks, as the public and political support grew for domestic energy production, we’ve seen interesting counterproposals. Today, for example, in response to the President lifting the executive order banning offshore energy development, House Majority Leader Hoyer issued a statement:

“Drilling in the OCS will do nothing to lower gas prices, but it will mean one more handout to those who are already enjoying billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies. Let me remind President Bush: If the oil companies wanted more domestic drilling, they could begin today. They could begin on the 68 million acres of land that are already set aside, leased, and available for drilling. And with upcoming Democratic legislation to speed up the leasing process for 20 million more acres in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, they’ll be able to drill there, too.”
Funny thing is, up until the last, oh, two months, we’d barely heard of this “use it or lose it” idea, demanding energy companies drill on existing leases before drilling commenced elsewhere. It certainly wasn’t a major part of the public policy debate the last several years when Congress considered more leasing in the Gulf of Mexico or took another run at ANWR.  Then all of a sudden, people are introducing bills, it becomes a major talking point…
And the idea of accessing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, well…what? Where did that come from? 
It’s true that in 2002, the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA) was mentioned as an alternative to the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge development.  The Congressional Research Service did a study, “The National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPRA).” Included was this finding:
[New] estimates for NPRA present a more optimistic picture, estimating 1.3 billion barrels economically recoverable at a price of $22/barrel (bbl), and 5.6 billion barrels economically recoverable with a market price of $30/bbl (2001 constant dollars). Technically recoverable oil is estimated at 5.9-13.2 billion barrels; the mean estimate is 9.3 billion barrels.

Well, that’s something, but according to this 2007 report on Alaska’s energy potential from the Department of Energy and National Energy Technology Laboratory, it’s not all that much of something in comparison to ANWR.  A chart on page 19 reports:


So the NPRA has a potential of 281,600 barrels of recoverable oil per square mile, versus 3.5 million barrels for square mile of ANWR? Maybe that’s why we hadn’t heard about it before.

Advocates of increasing domestic energy supplies have been consistently making the same case for years now: America is foolish to lock away its own energy resources when they can be accessed in a way that’s both environmentally safe and profitable. Let’s not ignore the supply side of energy supply and demand. (Again, take a look at that API statement from 1990.)

In contrast, these various counterproposals — “use it or lose it,” NPRA, let’s tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve for two days and a couple of hours — are coming up in shotgun, reactive way, almost as if they are intended not as serious policy proposals but rather as political chaff meant to deflect criticism. 

It’s not that confusing, really. We have vast energy resources in the United States. We need that energy. Let’s go get it.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • […] had a couple of posts this week (here and here) about the Naval Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, an area that all of a sudden has struck some […]

  • John C says:

    I find it amusing that the Democrats will, in the same sentence, state their current favorite sound bite, “We can’t drill our way out of the energy crisis”, and then yammer on about “use it or lose it” and NPRA.
    If, in fact, we can’t drill our way out of this problem then why promote drilling on existing leases—or anywhere?

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