Terry Jeffrey

Republicans may be planning a crude surprise for Democrats this October. I mean crude in the sense that it will involve unrefined petroleum.

Since the House recessed earlier this month, Republicans have been demanding that Speaker Nancy Pelosi call it back into special session to vote on whether to allow new offshore oil-drilling.

The Republicans know Pelosi won't do that. So, what do they really want?

Let's start with some sense of the oil resources America could develop if Congress would allow it.

In 2006, the Interior Department estimated that about 85.9 billion barrels of "undiscovered technically recoverable" oil sits offshore on the Outer Continental Shelf within U.S. territory.

In 2007, the Energy Department's "Task Force on Strategic Unconventional Fuels" reported that: "America's oil shale resource exceeds 2 trillion barrels, including about 1.5 trillion barrels of oil equivalent in high quality shales concentrated in the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. ... Depending on technology and economics, as much as 800 billion barrels of oil equivalent could be recoverable from oil shale resources yielding (more than) 25 gallons per ton."

This combined 885.9 billion barrels of recoverable oil that the government estimates lies undeveloped within U.S. territory is almost three and a half times as much as the 260 billion barrels in proven oil reserves that lie under Saudi territory.

America is an oil-rich country.

Since 1982, however, each year's Interior appropriation has included language forbidding Interior from selling oil-drilling leases in about 85 percent of the acreage comprising the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. (In July, President Bush lifted an executive order -- originally imposed by his father -- that essentially duplicated this congressional moratorium.)

Since this fiscal year, the Interior appropriation has also included a moratorium, sponsored by Rep. Mark Udall, D-Colo., that forbids Interior from issuing final regulations governing the sale of leases to develop oil shale lands. This effectively stops leases from being sold.

Because these moratoria are part of an appropriations bill that runs for only one fiscal year, they also run for one year. If not renewed by Sept. 30, they expire.

Unless Congress enacts a new law banning offshore leases and oil-shale leases, Interior can legally start selling these leases on Oct. 1.

This fact was not lost on House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., when I interviewed him on Aug. 7. I asked him if President Bush should veto any bill that includes a moratorium.

Terry Jeffrey

Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews

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