As the Senate this week began debate on a bill to allow more oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback said the issue was all about two numbers: 3 and 75. That is $3-a-gallon gasoline and $75-a-barrel oil. There are two other numbers, both released Wednesday, that the Senate should consider.
American carmaker General Motors announced that it had lost $3.1 billion during its second quarter. The same day, Honda announced profits of $1.2 billion. This model year, Honda had the highest average fuel-economy rating, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The Japanese carmaker reported large gains in the American market because of increasing sales of its high-mileage and hybrid vehicles. General Motors, meanwhile, is planning to unveil new versions of its pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.
Making vehicles that go farther on a gallon of gas makes economic sense and can reduce oil consumption. Instead, the Senate will focus on more drilling as the way to solve America’s energy problems. This is foolhardy.
The bill being debated would open 8.3 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, west of Florida, to oil drilling. The area is thought to contain 1.25 billion barrels of oil and 5.83 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The United States consumed nearly 21 million barrels of oil a day in 2004, according to the Department of Energy. More than half that oil is imported. Opening this area to drilling will make a tiny contribution to America’s oil supply and no nothing to reduce current gas prices.
Worse, allowing drilling off the coast of Florida with the expectation that it will increase supply and lower prices will only increase the pressure to drill in the oceans elsewhere in the country, which are now all off limits. A bill passed in the House would lift the current moratorium on offshore drilling, allowing drilling close to shore unless state legislatures voted to continue the ban.
If lawmakers were serious about solving the country’s energy problems, they would focus on the consumption side. Raising fuel economy standards for cars and trucks is one way to do this. Increasing fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon for all vehicles – from the current fleet average of 27.5 for cars and 21 for trucks – would save 2.5 million barrels of oil a day by 2025, the same amount the country now imports from the Persian Gulf. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have long supported such measures.
Senate leaders so far have prohibited amendments to raise fuel economy standards or promote other conservation measures from the drilling bill.
Two last numbers: America uses a quarter of the world’s oil but has only 3 percent of its oil reserves. Reducing consumption is the primary answer.