To plan a long and challenging journey, would you reject Mapquest and GPS and only consult an atlas from the 1970s? Unlikely. But to pinpoint America’s offshore oil deposits, Congressional Democrats, starting with Senator Barack Obama, love disco-era maps. Despite his conditional, latter-day support for limited offshore drilling, Obama is the sole sponsor of legislation that would block geological research to locate offshore oil.
Federal officials currently employ estimates based primarily on two-dimensional, black-and-white maps that oil-industry surveyors produced in the 1970s and furnished to the Interior Department. Since 1981, Congressional appropriations amendments effectively have barred Interior from financing or permitting survey expeditions — particularly and precisely in the 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf where oil production and exploration are verboten.
In 2005, Congress mandated new, quintennial inventories, then gave Interior six months and $0.00 to assess how much oil and natural gas undergird the 1.76 billion-acre Outer Continental Shelf — a laughably impossible task.
“They couldn’t even board a research vessel,” explains a congressional staffer who studies these issues. Interior’s “paper inventory,” the aide adds, “examined Canadian and West African coastal data, imagined where those sediments pooled before the Continental Drift, then extrapolated to guesstimate what’s off our Atlantic coast today.”
The resulting document states: “Resource estimates are highly dependent on the current knowledge base, which has not been updated in 20 to 40 years for areas under congressional moratorium. . . . ” Translation: “We have no idea what’s really out there.”
Obama’s “Oil SENSE Act” would repeal the 2005 Energy Policy Act’s authorization of these inventories. Introduced in January 2007, S.115 would leave decision makers with Carter Administration maps drawn with pre-PC technology. This is like engineering a Space Shuttle mission with slide rules.
Obama’s bill would prohibit expanded use of 3-D, color seismic techniques that locate and measure underwater oil deposits — even though those tools are in wide use where offshore drilling is allowed, such as the western Gulf of Mexico. In October 1999, President Clinton’s Energy Department evaluated the environmental quality of 1970s’ 2-D equipment against last decade’s 3-D technology. With the latter, Energy concluded, “Overall impacts of exploration and production are reduced because fewer wells are required to develop the same amount of reserves.” In 1970, 17 percent of offshore wells struck oil. By 1997, that figure was 48 percent.