Trying to take advantage of consumer unease over $4 a gallon gas, Virginia Republicans are pushing to reopen lease sales off the Old Dominion shore to oil companies. But the logic behind the move is as squishy as a tar ball on a polluted beach.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and Rep. Eric Cantor want to reverse the Obama administration’s decision last year to delay lease sales off the Virginia coast until 2017 after a rig leased by BP, the British energy giant, exploded and released about 5 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. For three months, oil from the spill gushed into the gulf 5,000 feet down at a rate of 53,000 barrels per day.
On Thursday, the Republican-controlled House of representatives passed a bill by a vote of 266-149 that would order sales by next June. The bill makes no provision for royalties to be paid to Virginia for any oil discovered.
The move is a political play to the “Drill, baby, drill!” crowd rather than anything economically serious. McDonnell is obstinate in his “vision” of making Virginia “the energy capital of the East Coast.”
“We are simply too dependent on foreign sources of oil. More than half of the oil we use comes from imports. And many of those barrels come from countries that are not our allies,” McDonnell said in an op-ed published yesterday in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Let’s consider that argument. According to the Energy Information Administration, the No. 1 exporter of oil to the United States is Canada, hardly an enemy, that John Candy movie notwithstanding. No. 2 is Saudi Arabia, followed by Mexico and Nigeria. No enemies there. No. 5 is Venezuela, whose president may be a thorn in America’s side, but the country has been a longtime and reliable supplier.
Regarding the Deepwater Horizon blow out, McDonnell says: “We know that lessons are being learned and that new safety standards are being put in place.”
Is that so? There is plenty of disagreement about whether the country has sufficiently recovered from its worst environmental disaster to start drilling full tilt. Many questions remain, ranging from whether there is adequate technology such as blow-out preventers to whether regulators have cleaned up their sloppy, if not corrupt, act in places like the Gulf Coast.
The last fallacy of McDonnell’s idea is that exploring for oil off Virginia as soon as possible will somehow ease today’s high gasoline prices. No one knows for sure whether there’s oil off the coast. If there is, it likely won’t get to market until about 2020. By then, there will be a lot more electric cars on the road. And it is doubtful the extra oil supply will be large enough to make a dent in global oil prices. Today’s prices result from strong demand for energy in Asia, not some kind of anti-American plot.
Officials in other sectors that do currently help the state’s economy — tourism, seafood and the Navy — all have grave doubts about offshore drilling. It doesn’t matter, though. Bob wants it.