Offshore drilling in the United States

Last Updated: 12 May 2020
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               Offshore drilling in the United States won’t make us independent of foreign oil, but over time and in conjunction with other plans it will lessen our reliance on foreign oil which will have a positive effect on our economy.

            In 1982, congress established an executive moratorium that banned exploration of the outer continental shelf in the United States for the purpose of offshore drilling.  This moratorium includes approximately 574 million acres with eighty-five percent of the off-limits acreage being in the lower forty-eight states.  This year President Bush lifted the moratorium, but congress is yet to lift its legislative prohibition which is necessary before actual drilling can commence.   The supporters of offshore drilling suggest that lifting the moratorium would lead to expectation and that alone may lower the cost.  That is a possibility, but even if offshore drilling didn’t have an immediate effect, it would be a wise step. The opposition also argues that oil companies don’t drill offshore in all the areas that it’s allowed.  The reason being is that environmental restrictions and court cases prevent drilling, sometimes for years. Meantime the heated debate over the pros and cons of offshore drilling continues.

            Take a look at the facts.  Americans use around 13.6 million barrels of imported oil on a daily basis.  Experts agree that there are between 17.8 billion and 18 billion barrels of untapped, offshore oil.  If the United States were to begin offshore drilling now, it would take ten to twelve years before it would have much of an impact. So, any impact would not likely be immediate.   Offshore drilling would increase crude oil production only by about seven percent. The United States depends on imported oil. Imported oil comprises fifty-eight percent, more than half of the United States annual consumption. According to the Energy Department, oil is currently $140 per barrel and producing our own oil would only cut that price by a couple of dollars per barrel.  Current gas prices at the pump are $4 to $5 per gallon. How offshore drilling would affect the prices at the gas pump, no one is certain.  (McFadden)

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            Critics of offshore drilling argue that the affects wouldn’t be immediate.  Some believe that we should dip into the country’s oil reserves to lower gas prices right now.  The oil reserves are only to be accessed under dire circumstances.  Although gas prices are staggering, they do not represent a dire situation. There are also environmental issues that critics cite in their argument.  Oil spills can be devastating to the environment, but in a study done by the National Academy of Sciences, it was found that there hasn’t been an oil spill involving more than one-thousand barrels in the past fifteen years.  In fact, a study done by environmentalist found that treated sewage polluted the waters with twelve percent more petroleum than did the oil platforms.  In some cases, offshore drilling has proved to be beneficial to the environment.  Louisiana has 3,200 offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico which produce twenty-five percent of America’s oil.  Louisiana also relies heavily on its commercial fisheries.  In the early 1940’s the federal government mandated that oil platforms that were no longer producing should be removed.  Fifteen years ago Louisiana attempted to comply with the mandate, but the fishermen wouldn’t hear of it.  Louisiana State University’s Sea Grant college conducted a study and they discovered that eighty-five percent of fishing trips in the gulf waters were near the abandoned platforms.  The study also found that there was fifty percent more marine life around the platforms than in the Gulf bottom. Louisiana, oil companies, and the federal and state government in a combined effort established the Rig to Reef program in 1986.  Oil companies are paid to keep their rigs in the Gulf waters to be used as artificial reefs. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determine the health of a reef based upon the amount of coral. Louisiana’s Flower Garden coral reef has fifty percent coral coverage. In the Florida Keys where state officials have fought adamantly against offshore drilling, coral coverage is only five percent. (Fontova)

 Critics also argue that the process of cleaning up oil spills hasn’t made any advancement since the 1950’s.  Research shows that there have been advancements in safety.  This is confirmed by the Minerals Management Service, the Department of Energy and the Coast Guard.  Beginning in 2006, measures were taken to strengthen Mobile Offshore Drilling Units by forty to fifty percent.  The steps that were taken include closer mooring inspections, additional mooring lines, a safety checklist for drilling equipment, a hurricane preparedness plan, guidelines developed to prevent jack-up rig foundation failure,  and assessment and revision of topside equipment in order to meet a higher safety standard.  Damage control, testing and technological advancements are an ongoing process. Communication between the Coast Guard and the Department of Energy has also made advancements and the responsibilities of both are more clearly defined.   There will always be a risk, but the risk is minimal. There is a greater risk of an oil spill with the tankers that are transporting the oil. (Brown)

Many coastal regions including California rely a great deal on tourism to keep their economy healthy.  The governor of California believes that offshore drilling will discourage tourism.  That seems to be an unsubstantiated claim.  People including Californians are struggling with soaring gas prices.  Besides that, utility companies are predicting increased rates.   Pacific Gas and Electric Co. are expecting their rates to increase by 4.4 percent in October and then 11 percent more in January due to increased natural gas prices.  They use natural gas to fuel their plants.  Californians have also been hit with a fifty-nine percent increase in natural gas to heat their homes.  Perhaps that’s why fifty-one percent of Californians now support offshore drilling.  Increased fuel prices are being felt throughout the United States.  In states such as New York, especially upstate, heat is necessary during the winter months.  Annual incomes only average $40,000 and people have to choose between heating their homes or paying their mortgage or heating their homes and feeding their families. It’s the same scenario at the gas pumps in areas where the majority of people travel at least twenty miles or more to their place of employment. Clearly, something needs to be done.

Just twenty-five years ago the United States produced sixty percent of its own oil. Today the United States only produces twenty-five percent of its own oil and depends on imported oil to meet the annual demand in this country.  That isn’t a good thing.  What would happen, if for any number of reasons such as a major weather event or terrorist activity, America no longer had access to imported oil?  The results would be devastating.   A situation such as this would pose a threat to the economy, the environment, and our national security.  One way of expressing the need for self-reliance in the oil industry is by taking a look back in history at a time when America was prosperous in oil production and other countries weren’t.  During World War II the U.S. abundance of oil gave us a tremendous advantage over Germany and Japan.  Neither Germany nor Japan had much access to domestic petroleum.   They had to fight for whatever imported oil was available to them and that caused them to be at a huge disadvantage.  After the war, America was able to offer aid to European economies.  We no longer have the resources to do this.  The age of the automobile came at a time when the United States was wealthy in the oil industry.  Unfortunately it also used up a great deal of oil wealth.  Today we are in less than favorable circumstances.  Many of the countries that we rely on for imported oil are dangerous, unstable and corrupt.  They spew hatred toward America and would like nothing better than to cause harm to Americans or their country. (Klare) Do we really want to be dependent on countries such as this?

             As stated previously, offshore drilling alone is not the answer and the effects won’t likely be felt any time soon.  There isn’t a quick fix for a country that is so dependent on oil products.  However, offshore drilling in conjunction with alternative sources of fuel and renewable fuels would have a tremendous positive affect on our economy.  Renewable sources would include solar, wind and geothermal.  Nuclear power, if safe and clean, would be another alternative.  Other sources of fuel would lead to a lessened need and consumption of oil products.  Exploration into these alternatives is necessary followed by a definite plan to utilize them.  Government funding for a project of this proportion and importance would also be necessary. Tapping into the vast natural gas reserves in Alaska and completing the Alaskan pipeline would also be a positive step toward oil independence.  Not to mention that it will provide many jobs. (Oil and Energy) Lifting restrictions that prevent offshore drilling in ANWR would be a huge step in the right direction as well. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, ANWR holds between 5.7 and 16 billion barrels of crude oil.  It’s by far, the largest source of oil and could produce approximately one million barrels each day.  In may console the environmentalists to know that the drilling would only take place on 2,000 acres.  Considering ANWR encompasses 19 million acres, 2000 acres is very small. (Lieberman)

            Offshore drilling along with the previously mentioned efforts, in time, will make a marked difference in America’s economy.  We shouldn’t rely solely on the efforts of lawmakers, politicians and government to remedy the situation.  Individually we can make an impact by putting forth every effort to consume less fuel. What exactly can we do?  We can choose carpooling or alternative forms of transportation and by driving fuel efficient vehicles that give us more miles per gallon.  We can also use pleasure vehicles less.  This would include boats, snowmobiles and off road vehicles like three-wheelers.  We can make sure our homes are well insulated and turn our thermostats down a few degrees.  We can also maintain our furnaces and keep them clean to ensure that they are functioning properly.  Another option would be to use furnaces in conjunction with another heating source such as a wood stove or we could invest in a wood or coal furnace.  Conserving energy in our homes is another step we could take.  By using less electricity, power plants will use less fuel.  We can conserve energy in our homes by using fluorescent bulbs, by keeping lights turned off during daylight hours and by using energy saving appliances.  If the majority of American’s would do this it would make an impact on America’s overall fuel consumption.

Works Cited
Brown, Joe. Texas A&M Economist Weighs Pros and Cons of Offshore Drilling. 16 July 2008. 29 September 2008 <>.

Fontova, Humberto. "The Environmental Benefits of Offshore Drilling." 2 June 2008. 30 September 2008 <>.

Klare, Michael T. 16 May 2006. 30 September 2008 <>.

Lieberman, Ben. "Opening ANWR: Long Overdue." 17 March 2005. The Heritage Foundation. 1 October 2008 <>.

McFadden, Patricia. Bush Lifts Offshore Drilling Ban, Lower Gas Prices Not Likely. 16 July 2008. 29 September 2008 <>.

Oil and Energy. 2008. 30 September 2008 <>.

Ryan, Josiah. Lawmakers Split on Drilling for Vast Amounts of Oil. 6 June 2008. 29 September 2008 <>.


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Offshore drilling in the United States. (2018, Sep 07). Retrieved from

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