California's 10 billion barrels in offshore oil could be brought to market in as little as a year "if the moratorium were lifted," according to a recent Sanford C. Bernstein report said, citing that the oil is under shallow water and drilling platforms already exist.
Polls show most Americans favoring opening federal lands and offshore areas to energy production. As it stands, 97% of our offshore areas and 94% of our federal lands are off limits.
To begin with, industry analysts note, much of the drilling delay is self-inflicted — a result of excessively stringent environmental and land-use regulations.
Scrap those, or modify them, and new oil can be produced in far less than 10 years.
Producing oil from new sources has three stages, which can take years, notes Marilyn Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association in Anchorage.
1. environmental impact report
2. bidding on leases
1. The environmental impact statement alone can take two to three years.
The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service manages those studies for federal offshore holdings, after input from local, state and environmental groups, according to spokeswoman Robin Cacy.
2. After that comes bidding.
MMS manages the 574 million acres of offshore federal holdings, and the Bureau of Land Management directs those for federal land, such as the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For instance, Cacy said MMS conducts lease bids in five-year blocks, with recent ones in the Chukchi Sea off northwest Alaska set for 2007 to 2012. Based on this, "we can't add new sales to that," she said.
Yet, in some areas, the regulatory processes is largely done, so oil can come to market far sooner than 10 years — if Congress lets it.
Bureaucracy's not the only problem.
According to the Institute for Energy Research, a private think tank, citing Bureau of Land Management data, protests, appeals and lawsuits over oil development averaged 1,180 per year between 2001 and 2007, a 706% increase over 1997-2000. The IER notes, for instance, that 100% of New Mexico's 78 oil leases were protested by environmental and neighborhood groups.
In Alaska's case, stringent environmental regulations permit exploration only in winter — from December to April. "We go to extreme means to make sure we do no harm to the tundra," said Crockett. Offshore exploration has fewer environmental delays, but requires more infrastructure to bring the oil to market, said Crockett.