Drill, Baby, Drill: For Onshore Oil and Offshore Natural Gas
Today's mess may grease the skids for a grand compromise.


Deroy Murdock

New Orleans — From within the elegant and delicious Restaurant August at the corner of Gravier and Tchoupitoulas Streets, the City that Care Forgot is quintessentially carefree. The chandeliers glisten, the patrons glow, and the oysters with truffle spoonbread could not be more delightful.

But about 40 miles south, a Delaware-sized oil slick threatens to blacken the coast like a nasty-tasting, pepper-encrusted redfish. As New Orleans and its environs confront one more undeserved sucker-punch in less than half a decade, it’s time for serious oil-and-gas reform.

“We are starting to hear that there may be shortages of Gulf seafood in the next few weeks,” laments Crawford Leavoy, a manager at Restaurant August. “We focus on using local products from the waters of Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico, but, because of this disaster, this may change for all of us in New Orleans. Restaurant August will continue to support local fishermen and shrimpers until we are told otherwise. Most importantly, we think of our customers first, and their safety is our priority.”

Worries about petroleum-marinated seafood, oil-infused waterfowl, and crude-battered beaches have chilled lawmakers feet about expanding ocean-based oil production.

Regarding President Obama’s plan to broaden offshore drilling, Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.) told MSNBC: “I think that’s dead on arrival.”

This calamity could metastasize. Some forecasters warn that the Loop Current could drive the oil slick from the ruins of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig south along Florida’s west coast and around Key West. Once in the Gulf Stream, the oil spill would speed up the eastern seaboard, potentially fouling beaches from Miami to the Carolinas.

Such a fiasco surely would kill new offshore oil for a generation.

Today’s mess may grease the skids for a grand compromise: a red light for new offshore oil in exchange for green lights for onshore oil production and offshore natural-gas drilling.

True, this approach would overlook plentiful oil supplies beneath U.S. oceans. “You have over four times more resources offshore,” says Dr. John Felmy, the American Petroleum Institute’s chief economist. In federal lands and waters, he says, “there are about 21 billion barrels of oil onshore, mostly in Alaska, and 86 billion barrels of oil offshore.”

Some 4 billion barrels of untapped oil rest under Montana and North Dakota. Americans use about 7.3 billion barrels annually. While the U.S. would consume this deposit alone in just seven months, many similar reserves sit beneath American soil, rather than below domestic waters.

Meanwhile, natural gas abounds, offshore and on.