Offshore Drilling Comes Up Empty

Bill Scher

As Sen. John McCain gears up to give a speech in Houston, repeating his call to lift the moratorium on most drilling off America’s shores, MSNBC’s First Read suggests, “McCain’s call for lifting the ban could … be seen as a pragmatic, short-term solution to high energy costs that could play well in places like Michigan…”

Pragmatic, short-term solution? Only if the media doesn’t report on how little oil is off our coasts and how long it would take to get it into people’s gas tanks.

Last month, I noted that President Bush’s push to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — where an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil lie — would only reduce the price of crude oil per barrel by about 50 cents, 17 years from now, according to Bush’s own Energy Department. My colleague Isaiah just pointed me to a new Department of Energy analysis, adjusting that estimate to 75 cents.

The price of crude oil per barrel has jumped 100 dollars in the Bush Era, leading prices at the pump to more than double. Shaving the crude oil price 75 cents by 2025 amounts to no savings at the gas station.

That’s what we would get for ANWR’s 10 billion barrels. What about the moratorium areas off continental America’s coastlines?

McCain’s speech today estimates that there 21 billion barrels in the moratorium areas. That seems a touch high. The Energy Department put it at 18 billion a few years ago. Popular Mechanics reports an estimate of 19 billion.

Regardless, it’s about double of what’s estimated in ANWR.

So, if lifting the moratorium on most offshore drilling has double the impact on price as lifting the ANWR ban would, that’s only $1.50 off the price of crude per barrel. Combined with ANWR, it’s $2.25.

Again, by 2025. Again, little to no impact on the price at the pump, today or tomorrow.

Not pragmatic. Not short-term. There is simply not enough oil.

UPDATE: Just to put a fine point on it, lowering the price of crude oil per barrel by $1 is roughly equal to a reduction in price at the pump of 2.5 cents per gallon. So lifting all of the above moratoriums, lowering the price of crude by $2.25 per barrel, would lower the price at the pump by less than 6 cents by 2025.

Meaningless, after prices have skyrocketed more than $3 a gallon between Dec. 2001 and today.

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