Business groups and environmental organizations are locking horns again over a bill that would open the Outer Continental Shelf to deep-sea oil drilling.
Businesses say that the American Conservation and Clean Energy Independence Act will reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil; conservationists and environmentalists claim that the nation would be better served by focusing on alternative, clean energies.
Proponents of the bill say that drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and off the East Coast could generate as much as $3.2 trillion in revenue and severely curb the nation’s need to import oil from unstable, unfriendly nations.
“This bill is geared toward increasing our independence,” said Jim Sims, executive director of The Western Business Roundtable, a Denver-based group of business leaders. “Clearly, it’s trying to increase American production.”
The U.S. Minerals Management Services estimates that the Outer Continental Shelf contains 450 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas resources and 85 billion barrels of oil.
“That is enough oil to replace current Persian Gulf imports for nearly 60 years,” he said. “The choice for congress should be clear.”
But money spent on the same old energy sources can be a “dicey game,” said Eric Cefus, executive director of the Catamount Institute in Colorado Springs.
“It’s not the right mode of investment,” he said. “Oil is not a renewable resource, we know that. We think that it makes more sense to invest in other sources — not the same things we’ve been doing.”
The bill, introduced by Rep. Tim Murphy, says that 20 percent of the revenue generated by off-shore drilling — an estimated $440 billion — must be used for research and development of alternative energy, carbon sequestration technology and cleaner sources of fuel.
“There is so much oil there — no one really knows the top limit — and it will generate a lot of revenue,” Sims said. “The federal government will share that revenue with the states in the gulf, so it’s a real partnership.”
Some of the money will even go toward a nuclear energy reserve, he said.
“This is an ‘all of the above’ bill,” he said. “And it’s exactly the kind of thing we need. Businesses can get behind this bill. It doesn’t increase their costs of doing business; it won’t drive them out of business.”
But Cefus wants to know where the profits come from, because deep-sea drilling is very expensive.
“It costs a lot of money, and it doesn’t diversify our energy economy,” he said. “I agree that one of our biggest detriments is dependence on foreign oil, but we need to put our money in research and development for new technologies.”
The bill was introduced last week, Sims said, and contains no controversial requirements for a carbon cap-and-trade system. Businesses’ carbon footprint would not be regulated under the new bill.
“This bill covers both new and existing energy sources,” he said. “People who spoke against it said we should focus solely on wind — for wind to produce this same amount of energy, we would need 330,000 wind mills on the Gulf Coast. This is what makes sense for the country — this moves us forward.”
But the government needs to control carbon emissions, Cefus said. The fact that the bill doesn’t include caps on carbon is a mistake.
“It’s a step backward,” he said. “It might cost something now, to change the way you do business, but if we don’t then it’s going to cost a lot more in the future. Climate change very definitely will affect the economy. There isn’t any doubt. Climate change will adversely affect business, we know this.”
Sims said a cap and trade system is not necessary because the bill will focus on carbon sequestration science, including clean coal technology.
“We don’t need another government regulating program,” he said. “We don’t need the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) involved. Businesses can do this on their own.”
The real problem lies in politicians getting involved with something that is the purview of scientists and engineers, Cefus said.
“I have a problem with government offering tons of money for iffy science,” he said. “A few years ago, President Bush announced a hydrogen economy. We spent billions on research. And where is the hydrogen economy today? It doesn’t exist. Even people researching it knew it wouldn’t go anywhere.”