California Offshore Development Benefits the Economy, Our Security and the Environment

When it comes to energy production, it is important to produce locally and think globally. In this spirit, the Obama Administration’s plan to ban offshore energy development in California’s federal waters through 2022 is a mistake for three important reasons. First, it would result in less home-grown energy when we need more of it. Second, it would reverse progress toward making the United States energy independent, thereby increasing our national security. Third, it would stall progress in mitigating the impacts of global climate change.

It is a simple fact that, in the near term, we need more oil and gas, not less. The Energy Information Administration recently predicted that U.S. demand will continue to grow, and the International Energy Agency also forecasted that global oil consumption grow, for the next 24 years. California is the world’s sixth largest economy – larger than France or Brazil — and the most populous state and we require an enormous amount of energy from all sources to power our universities, our industries, our schools, our homes and our planes and cars (yes, even the electric ones).

The good news is that we are a major energy producer. California is the third largest oil producing state, with the industry responsible for nearly half a million jobs and contributing to vital public services with $20 billion in annual state and local tax revenues.

The bad news is that we produce only 37 percent of the energy we consume. The oil and gas we don’t produce here is imported by tanker or train, from countries — like Iraq, Angola and Russia – with laxer environmental protections. Critically, these countries are often not always aligned with the interests of the United States. So importing oil increases both our global carbon footprint and makes us less geopolitically secure.

The benefits of increased offshore production could be significant. Developing even some of our resources would make a huge dent in our imports and the math suggests that if we developed all of our offshore oil and gas, we would produce enough to provide for ourselves without imports for 30 years. In addition, a study by ICF International estimates that, by 2030, such development could create more than 14,000 new jobs, $3 billion in economic activity and $12 billion in government revenues.

And what about safety? First, California’s energy producers operate in the strictest regulatory environment in the country. In the past 40 years California has produced more than a billion barrels of oil in federal waters and about 870 barrels have been spilled. For perspective, approximately 70,000 barrels of oil seep naturally off the coast of Santa Barbara each year.  More oil per week seeps naturally into the ocean than has been spilled during oil production in four decades. As well, offshore production has led to a reduction of seepage as it decreases subsea reservoir pressure. As for fracking, a frequent target of anti-industry activists, a recent federal analysis of well-stimulation treatments on the 23 oil and gas platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf off California’s shore found “no significant impact” on the environment.

Happily, energy independence and emission reductions are correlated: as we produce more energy in California, we reduce our carbon footprint because we aren’t importing, which makes us less dependent on foreign oil. This is a welcome complement to the shale revolution, and the fracking that has made it possible, elsewhere in the country which has allowed the U.S. to emerged as a leader in both producing energy and in slashing greenhouse gas emissions.

It is a shame that the Obama Administration – which in the past has supported increased production of domestic energy resources while touting its economic, geopolitical and environmental benefits – would now seek to thwart these benefits. Californians treasure our beautiful beaches and scenic coastline, as well as our bipartisan tradition of putting a premium on environmental stewardship, and sometimes the best solutions are counter-intuitive.

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