As more consumers consider downsizing their cars and taking shorter trips to find relief from record gas prices, President George W. Bush lifted the ban on offshore drilling yesterday -- an action not likely to affect supplies or prices anytime soon.
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Bush's announcement cleared offshore drilling’s executive-branch restrictions. But before the ban can be fully lifted, Congress must approve the decision.
Each year, Congress decides whether to reinstitute the bill, which makes President Bush’s decision is particularly timely – Congress is set to break for the summer on Aug. 8. However, if the ban is removed, President Bush would eliminate the moratorium that was extended by former President Bill Clinton.
On Capitol Hill, Democrats condemned Bush’s move, calling instead for oil companies to drill on land which they already held leases. The President defended his decision, stating that offshore drilling will ease pressure on oil prices through domestic production.
If the exploration and discovery process began today it could take 5 to 10 years for domestic oil to begin to play a role at the pump, says Brian Kennedy, Senior Vice President at the Institute for Energy Research, a not-for-profit organization based in Washington, D.C.
At the heart of the debate are two bans on offshore drilling. The first moratorium on offshore drilling took effect in 1982 by Congress, and a second ban was placed by George H. W. Bush in 1990. With the congressional bill, there is essentially a ban against allowing government dollars to be spent on exploring offshore drilling options.
For a nation that relies heavily on foreign oil, domestic production seems like a good idea for to some. "The notion that we’re going to get off oil any time soon is false," says Kennedy. "Oil is not only the lifeblood of our economy but the entire world. That's a fact that many people might not enjoy but a fact nonetheless."
And according to a May Gallup poll, many Americans are open to the idea of offshore drilling. Fifty-seven percent of those surveyed, would allow drilling in coastal and wilderness areas if it meant a reduction in the price of gasoline.
So, just how much oil can the United States produce? "If the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was completely developed and produced, the amount of oil is turned into gasoline completely, would keep the cars and trucks going for 2 years maximum," says Jan Lundberg, publisher of Culturechange.org, a petroleum reform non-profit.
Critics say that the offshore drilling may not produce ample gas. In addition, some say the cost to the environment is high. "The word economy and the word ecosystem are really from the same one word," says Jan Lundberg. "It's time we start protecting the environment," says Lundberg. "There is no way to build our way out of the mistake of this huge petroleum infrastructure that is starting to crumble."