Bud Weinstein

Every few years since the mid-1970s, it seems, the United States undergoes an “energy crisis.” With crude oil up nearly 100 percent over the past year, and gasoline and diesel prices hitting new highs every week, the usual finger pointing is underway.

Some members of Congress, as well as the Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama, want to hike taxes on “greedy” oil and gas companies and repeal existing production incentives in order to subsidize energy use by America’s low-income households while President Bush and other heads-of-state travel to the Middle East and request that OPEC members increase output. Meanwhile, a growing chorus of environmentalists claims that we can secure all the BTUs we need through a combination of conservation and alternative energy sources like ethanol, wind and solar—though they’re not yet ready to embrace nuclear.

To make matters worse, we hear more and more babble about “peak oil,” the notion that the planet has reached some technological limit on the amount of petroleum and natural gas that can be extracted from the Earth. This is sheer nonsense. The world has an ample inventory of fossil fuels, including more than 40 years of proven oil and 60 years of proven natural gas. And a sizeable portion of those reserves is located right off the coast of Florida. According to recent news reports, the Energy Information Administration estimates that 16 billion barrels lie off Florida's coast alone, with other estimates going as high as 21 billion barrels.[1]

But right now, most of this available domestic energy—new supplies that could reduce imports, strengthen national security, and help restrain price increases—is off limits. Since an oil spill nearly 40 years ago, California severely restricts new drilling even though an estimated 11 billion barrels of recoverable oil lie just off its coast. Similarly, the Federal government prohibits drilling for an estimated 5.6 to 16 billion barrels of oil in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Drilling is also banned on 85 percent of the U.S. outer continental shelf which is estimated to hold 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Bud Weinstein

Bernard L. Weinstein is director of the Center for Economic Development and Research and a professor of applied economics at the University of North Texas in Denton.
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