David Holt

As Congress undergoes painful negotiations on whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, a lot of opinion has been offered about the government’s “discretionary” spending. One item on America’s credit card that typically prompts universal outrage is the amount of taxpayer money sent overseas for oil imports—and it’s easy to see why. According to data derived from the Energy Information Administration, Americans have already spent $200 billion – that’s billion with a “b” – on imported oil since the start of this year.

The fact that the U.S. has spent this much on imported oil in just over seven months is regrettable on many levels, especially because our own policies have left us unacceptably vulnerable to imported oil. Americans sit atop at least 150 billion barrels of untapped oil, enough to fuel our country's current consumption level for 24 years. Yet, the Administration and its allies in Congress have exploited every possible bureaucratic loophole to ensure that 97.6 percent of outer continental shelf lands -- territory that's ten times the size of Texas -- remain off limits to production.

Expanded access to and increased production of North America’s ample energy resources would largely offset the need for imports. For starters, granting permits to explore and produce in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in Alaska would allow us to fill the TransAlaska pipeline and bring more than 1.3 million barrels of American-produced oil to U.S. markets. The proposed expansion of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, presuming the State Department withstands an increasingly heated campaign to block it, would deliver 700,000 barrels of oil every day to U.S. refineries from Oklahoma, Kansas, the Dakotas, Montana, and the Canadian province of Alberta.

The fact that we’ve reached such an unfortunate milestone with imported oil is hardly surprising considering recent activity, or lack thereof, in the Gulf of Mexico. When a drilling moratorium was announced in the Gulf last year, the administration’s chief offshore drilling agency, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), assured skeptics that any decline in oil production stemming from the drilling ban would be substituted with OPEC imports. It is precisely this mentality that’s cost us $200 billion this year alone.

David Holt

David Holt is President of the Consumer Energy Alliance.