Moratorium on deepwater oil and natural gas development is detrimental to nation's recovery


That’s why I am so concerned about the moratorium on deepwater oil and natural gas development in the Gulf of Mexico.  Unfortunately, there are already indications that the spill could be used to punish the oil and gas industry or to justify a new era of sharp restrictions on domestic energy development. Our leaders cannot allow this early reaction to turn into a long-term policy. Such an approach would only damage the nation’s recovery and job growth, in and well beyond the Gulf, and our ability to compete globally.  U.S. manufacturing would be on the leading edge of the decline.

The consequences of a tighter and more expensive supply of oil and natural gas would be felt by every American. We seem to forget that these energy sources power much more than transportation. The chemical industry’s unique use of oil and natural gas illustrates the point. Like other manufacturers, we use oil and natural gas to heat and power our factories. But we also use these sources as vital raw materials for products that become the “building blocks” for thousands of consumer goods.  A remarkable 96 percent of U.S. manufactured goods are touched by chemistry. We employ more than 800,000 Americans and help create more than 5.1 million jobs in the overall economy.

So what’s the sensible path for policymakers? A sound U.S. energy strategy must develop a broad set of energy options. We’ll need to boost energy efficiency and conservation as well as energy diversity, including alternatives and renewables, nuclear, carbon capture and storage, and combined heat and power. Chemistry is key to the effort: its products and processes are relied on for a long list of renewable energy and energy efficiency applications, from solar panels, wind turbines and energy-efficient appliances to building insulation, lightweight vehicle parts and compact fluorescent light bulbs. Achieving greater greenhouse gas emissions reductions will require a robust, competitive U.S. chemical industry.

Domestic oil and natural gas are other elements of the strategy that we cannot overlook or take for granted. If we’re not careful, the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf – currently under legal review – could signal the start of a policy that would jeopardize millions of American jobs and drive up the cost of business for the industrial sector. With the chemical industry already facing high costs for energy, intense foreign competition, and razor-thin margins, we need domestic, competitively-priced oil and gas more than ever.

While Americans may intellectually understand that domestic oil and natural gas resources are essential, the devastation apparent from the Gulf spill weighs heavily in developing the right policy responses.  We need to map out an effective national energy strategy, looking past emotions to weigh the sober facts. The Gulf’s offshore industry produces 30 percent of the nation’s oil and 11 percent of the nation’s natural gas. Of that amount, nearly 70 percent of the oil and 30 percent of the gas comes from deepwater drilling. This production cannot be easily replaced.

Instead of focusing on punitive measures against the oil and gas industry, the prudent response would be to rededicate ourselves to offshore safety and tighter oversight. Until this spill, the offshore industry had a strong safety and environmental protection record. According to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Mineral and Management Service, offshore operators produced 4.7 billion barrels of oil since 1980, with a release rate of less than 0.001 percent. As some have already suggested, that safety record might have created a sense of overconfidence that contributed to the spill. What we know for sure is that this disaster has already sounded the alarm for other offshore operators.

The oil and natural gas obtained in deepwater off of our coasts are essential to U.S. manufacturing – today and for decades to come.  With proper oversight, the industry should be given the opportunity to continue doing its important job.  As Congress develops a comprehensive energy policy, lawmakers should oppose a ban on offshore development in the Outer Continental Shelf while promptly considering how to end the drilling moratorium in the Gulf.

Cal Dooley is president and CEO of the American Chemistry Council.