Don’t get me wrong. That 15 percent has been incredibly productive. In fact, the Gulf of Mexico region, which is the heart of America’s offshore oil and gas industry, has yielded six times more oil than 1980s resource estimates predicted it held. Production in the Gulf is finally ramping back up now that permitting rates are bouncing back from historic lows following the Macondo spill in 2010. We have every reason to believe that the areas where we can explore and produce will continue to support and create jobs and contribute to America’s energy security for years and even decades to come. For this reason, we will continue to advocate that the Obama Administration streamline and accelerate permitting on these acres of the OCS. We will also fight to put to rest once and for all the erroneous claims that the industry is “sitting on” offshore tracts, a red herring that surfaced again during the presidential debates.
In fact, the success industry has crafted out of the 15 percent of the OCS currently open to exploration and production underscores why the Interior Department’s 5-Year Leasing Plan was so disappointing. Think of how much energy awaits us in the 85 percent of the offshore areas where we currently cannot explore or produce. One report by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, conducted several years ago, estimates recoverable resources in “U.S. moratorium areas” of 19.29 billion barrels of oil and 83.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. If history is any guide, these estimates will prove to be very conservative. The frustrating truth is we have no idea how much is waiting for us there, because we’re not allowed to go look.
President Obama and our leaders in Congress face many tough decisions in the weeks ahead. The fiscal cliff. The debt ceiling. Persistently high unemployment and deficits. I’m not arguing that opening new offshore areas to exploration and production will solve any of these problems – but it would help. The offshore industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs nationwide and contributes billions of dollars in revenue to state and federal coffers. Greater access means more jobs and more revenue. That seems like a sensible reason for Congress to work together with the administration on legislation to find agreement on new offshore access.
The House passed such legislation earlier this year and a similar bill awaits action in the Senate. It shouldn’t be a difficult decision, particularly when bipartisan support exists for offshore energy development in states such as Virginia and South Carolina. I wish the newly re-elected president and our leaders in Congress the best of luck in dealing with our nation’s difficult challenges.  And I hope they will make the easy call to open up more of the OCS to oil and natural gas exploration and production, so that Americans can reap the benefits of the added energy security, jobs and revenue that increased access will bring.
Luthi is the president of the National Ocean Industry Association, representing more than 275 companies engaged in all aspects of the exploration and production of both traditional and renewable energy resources on the nation’s outer continental shelf.