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Should The U.S. Drill for Oil Offshore?

In response to soaring energy prices, Congress lifted a longtime ban but is likely to reconsider the issue next year

America's energy challenges have been decades in the making, and there's no easy way to solve them. But one thing we can do immediately is to allow more offshore oil drilling.

In September, Congress lifted—at least, temporarily—its ban on deep-water exploration and drilling in an area known as the outer continental shelf. (Offshore drilling has been allowed in other areas like the Gulf of Mexico.) I believe the U.S. coastline should remain open to oil drilling.

In the 26 years since the ban was imposed in 1982, technological advances have almost eliminated the safety and environmental concerns that were behind the moratorium.

The ban has long blocked the recovery of an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil. Tapping this resource would be a key step in addressing the global changes in the oil market that have caused the recent increase in oil prices.

Oil prices are being driven up by increased demand around the world, and the U.S. must deal with this new energy reality. Our dependence on oil imports leaves us vulnerable to shifts in the global marketplace. The way to reduce that dependence is to develop more domestic energy resources.

Offshore drilling will not increase our oil supplies tomorrow. But it will send a strong signal to the market and to other oil-producing nations—and that will reduce prices in the long run.

America's overall energy policy is to diversify our energy supplies and suppliers and to invest in new, clean technologies and increased energy efficiency. These are, however, long-term solutions. In the short run, America will continue to need more oil for the bulk of its energy demands.

Samuel W. Bodman
U.S. Secretary of Energy

Americans are justifiably outraged that they've been paying $3.50 or $4 a gallon for gas, while Exxon-Mobil makes more profits than any corporation in history. Congress needs to take action, but one thing our country doesn't need is to open up the entire U.S. coastline—and large areas of our oceans—to drilling.

Despite what you may have heard from the "drill baby drill" crowd, President Bush's own energy information office says that drilling for oil on the outer continental shelf would not lower gas prices until 2030. That's because it takes a lot of time and money to locate the oil and build the necessary drilling platforms.

Americans consume 21 million barrels of oil every day. Yet some people insist that the 200,000 barrels per day we might get in 2030 from more ocean drilling would solve our addiction to oil and stave off high prices at the pump.

More offshore drilling stations will expose our coastal areas—and coastal economies that are dependent on tourism and fishing—to a greater risk of oil spills, and end up contributing to the pollution that causes global warming.

If the United States is serious about lower energy prices and about breaking our dependence on fossil fuels in general and on foreign oil in particular, we must invest in energy efficiency and sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar. In addition, we need to invest in hybrid and electric cars and mass transit.

What we need is a 21st-century energy plan to allow us to stop relying on 19th-century technology.

Senator Bernie Sanders
Independent of Vermont