Deciding Today on Energy for Tomorrow

In his State of the Union address, President Obama talked about "making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development."

When it comes to respectfully developing America's abundant oil and natural gas resources--including areas in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)--there's nothing tough about this decision. We should be developing America's Outer Continental Shelf, and we should be doing it now. It's a huge win for America. Here's why.

America needs the energy. The recession may have slowed energy demand temporarily, but one day, we expect that overall energy demand will not only return, it will grow. In fact, we're seeing growth already in China and India.

Some people point to renewables and alternatives as a silver bullet to solve the demand challenge. But as the President pointed out in his White House briefing remarks this week, the sheer scale of our energy needs requires that we focus on a comprehensive approach. The fact is, we need more of all forms of energy, including oil and natural gas--which, most projections see as providing the dominant share of the energy mix for decades.

The good news: the OCS has significant potential. Over time, it could add 1 million more barrels of oil and natural gas equivalent a day--potentially representing a fifth of the current total U.S. oil production. Advances in technology could increase that amount dramatically.

America presently imports about two-thirds of the oil it needs every day. Every additional barrel produced here at home reduces our dependence on imported energy. Every additional barrel produced here keeps American jobs and dollars at home.

That's critical. Because America needs the jobs and the economic boost that developing the OCS will provide.

My industry already provides good jobs to 2.1 million Americans directly; the industry supports another 7 million indirectly. Developing the OCS and other areas that are presently off limits could potentially create 160,000 new jobs--and provide up to $1.7 trillion additional government revenue.

For decades, the industry has been safely operating in the Gulf of Mexico, under comprehensive and rigorous government regulations. The same capability that allows us to operate in the Gulf's extremes--in over 10,000 feet of water, for example--also safeguards our people and the environment. Advances in technology provide tremendous benefit, but that's reinforced by how we operate. Even if a soft drink can accidentally fell overboard, we'd report it. We know that our ability to operate in the rest of the OCS depends on doing things in a responsible and sustainable way. We take this responsibility very seriously.

Developing the OCS is not without significant investment and financial risk. It's important to remember that both are borne by companies, not by the government. But the resulting energy and economic security benefit everyone.

That's what U.S. Senators Jim Webb (D-VA) and Mark R. Warner (D-VA) emphasized in a letter last month to Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar. The letter encouraged the Secretary to accelerate an offshore development process currently hampered by unnecessary delays.

Senators Webb and Warner's advocacy is in step with what many other Americans want. According to a recent poll, 68 percent of American voters think offshore oil and natural gas development should get a green light.

So how do we move forward from here? Quickly--and on three fronts:

First, we need a modern, accurate inventory of key areas of the OCS. Most of the data we have about prospective OCS areas is based on 25-year-old technology.

The Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) recently restarted a long-delayed process to take the first steps toward gathering better information in the Atlantic. But more state-of-the-art data is needed. Only then can we understand the true extent of the resource the OCS contains and which areas offer the greatest potential. That data can inform public dialogue and help make the most prudent leasing and development decisions.

Second, the MMS should finalize--soon--its proposed OCS five-year plan. It is the guiding framework for any future development. Their planning process, in place for many years, has proven to be comprehensive, in that it includes feedback from all stakeholders in the development of America's natural resources.

Third, Congress should open up the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to exploration, which we know holds significant potential for new energy. It is a proven and productive hydrocarbon basin and is nearest existing energy infrastructure, enabling industry to move from exploration to development to market in a relatively short period of time. This has the support of many Senators, who included provisions to expand access there in legislation passed by the Senate Energy Committee.

At a time when our economy is under duress, and our energy security is challenged, now is the time to move forward and develop America's natural resources. Creating jobs, generating incremental taxes and royalties to our government, and producing more energy here at home is the prudent thing to do. Let's act now--it's a huge win for America.