Senator Jeff Bingaman, Congressman Nick Rahall, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress who oppose producing more American oil are in a bind.

They know voters are hurting from high gas prices and overwhelmingly want the government to allow more American oil production. But they can’t side with the American people and risk upsetting their left-wing base. So they needed a way to make us think they support more drilling – while effectively preventing us from ever drilling a single new well.

They think they’ve found a solution: a proposed “use it or lose it” law on federal leases for energy exploration. Bingaman, Rahall and fellow drilling opponents accuse the oil industry of “sitting on” 68 million acres of “non-producing” leased land. They want to force energy companies to “use” this leased land within ten years – or lose all exploration and drilling rights.

America can only hope the proposed law is Bingaman and Rahall’s clumsy attempt at political jujitsu. The alternative is that the politicians in charge of committees that determine US energy policy are confused and ludicrously disconnected from reality.

First, lease agreements already require that leased land be used in a timely manner. The 1992 Comprehensive Energy Policy Act requires energy companies to comply with lease provisions, and explore expeditiously, or risk forfeiture of the lease. So the Bingaman-Rahall “solution” effectively duplicates current law.

Second, and more disturbingly, Bingaman and Rahall’s groundless accusation and proposed legislation rely on the absurd assumption that every acre of land leased by the government contains oil. Obviously, that’s not the case.

The truth is, finding oil is a long, complex, cumbersome, expensive process. It starts with an idea – about what kinds of geologic structures are likely to hold this vital resource. Based on that idea, companies purchase leases: agreements that allow them to test their ideas, and hopefully find and produce oil and gas from leased properties.

Then geologists look at existing data and conduct seismic, magnetic and geophysical tests of the leased areas. They create detailed 3-D computer models of what subsurface rock formations look like, and whether there might be any “traps” that could hold petroleum.


Roy Innis and Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich is founder of the non-partisan think tank American Solutions and author of Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America. Roy Innis is chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality and author of Energy Keepers - Energy Killers: The new civil rights battle.

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