By Tom Wyka, Democratic Candidate for Congress, New Jersey District 11
On Monday, July 14, President George W. Bush lifted his father’s ban on drilling for oil and gas off the East and West Coast and in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. But before anyone can drill there, Congress would have to lift its own ban. The President said that “Now the ball is squarely in Congress’s Court.” However, the President knows full well that lifting this ban will do nothing to solve our current problems. The Energy Information Administration estimates that drilling in those areas won’t affect oil production and thus oil prices before the year 2030. In addition, oil companies already have 68 million acres under government leases that they can currently drill, and exploration ships are booked solid for the next five years.
We got a wakeup call about oil back in 1973, with the Arab Oil Embargo. We hit the snooze alarm again after the 1979 energy crisis. Starting in late 1978, a strike in the Iranian oilfields nearly shut off Iran’s oil production. Although other OPEC countries increased their production, the world’s output of oil decreased by about 4% in the short run. I remember the resulting gasoline shortages very clearly. I was a young teenager then, and I made some money selling newspapers at the end of my block to the people waiting in line for gasoline, at a station about half a mile away. We knew then that even a small decrease in oil supply could cause major problems. Yet what is our government doing while our gasoline prices are soaring? President Bush and our current incumbent Congressman, Rodney Frelinghuysen, opposed efforts to shift tax incentives from big oil companies to efficiency and clean energy technologies, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. If alternatives are the future, why propose an oil-based solution that will not show any results for years?
Since the beginning of the oil business, the “problem” that the oil companies nearly always faced was overproduction. The big oil fields were discovered early, and it was all too easy to pump too much of that oil too fast. The resulting “oil gluts” would drop prices very low. But conditions have changed recently. There’s still lots of oil, but what’s left is harder and more expensive to produce. As a result, oil production hasn’t increased lately, despite the record prices. And it’s likely production levels can’t increase. Even Saudi Arabia might be able to produce only 10.4 million barrels per day on a sustained basis, and might not be able to produce more than 12 million barrels per day in emergencies. This is far less than recent optimistic estimates. When you combine stagnant supplies with rising world demand, you get today’s skyrocketing prices.
Currently, the rise in gasoline prices is causing real hardship for people throughout the country. We need Congress to do something that will make a difference now. For example, the American Trucking Associations want the national speed limit to be reduced to 65 mph. We also need more funding for public transit, which is having a huge growth in ridership. We also need to plan for the future. Back in 2006, I called for a new “Manhattan Project”—but this time to develop ways to conserve energy and harness alternative sources of energy. During his last few terms in office, your current Congressman has been too busy supporting the Bush administration and the oil industry’s profit margins to do much about these issues. Don’t you think it’s time for a change?
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