How Would Offshore Oil Drilling Affect You?

President Bush wants to lift the federal ban on offshore drilling, but environmentalists worry about potential risks.

The presidential candidates are dueling over it, and the president fully supports it. Offshore drilling is definitely the hot topic of the week, but what does it mean to you?

As it turns out, the debate has serious implications for your wallet and your future. With gas prices topping $4 a gallon, the effect of the energy crisis on your bank account is pretty clear, but it also has wide-reaching implications for the environment and national security. The search for a workable solution is vital, which is why President Bush joined the fray this week, calling for Congress to lift the federal ban on offshore oil drilling. The move sparked a volley of heated debate and got news-network talking heads chattering — so what's the deal?

In 1981, Congress passed legislation prohibiting coastal drilling for oil and natural gas. The federal law, which protects against environmentally damaging marine oil spills, is reinforced by an executive order banning offshore oil exploration, signed by the first President Bush.

The White House is now advocating an end to the moratorium, which would give oil companies the freedom to tap reserves off our nation's coast. Moreover, the president supports opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration. Over time, the Bush administration contends, drilling in these locations will increase the domestic supply of oil — and cause a corresponding decrease in gas prices.

Senator John McCain, a former opponent of offshore drilling, announced his support Tuesday for coastal oil exploration. The presumptive Republican presidential nominee favors lifting the ban in order to decrease our dependence on foreign oil. According to McCain, "Our petrodollars are underwriting tyranny, anti-Semitism, the brutal repression of women in the Middle East, and dictators and criminal syndicates in our own hemisphere." McCain's energy plan centers on finding ways for the U.S. to supply more of its own oil. Energy independence, according to advocates, will allow us to sever ties with unsavory oil-producing-countries, thereby improving our national security.

Opponents of the president's plan, including Democratic presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama, deny that opening new areas for drilling can solve the energy crisis. While an estimated 18 million barrels of oil lie in the waters off our nation's coast, production cannot be increased immediately and the economic results could not be realized for more than 20 years, according to the Energy Information Administration. Additionally, as Democratic Party leaders note, oil companies already own leases to more than 60 million acres of federal land but have failed to utilize those resources.

Environmentalists also oppose the president's call for offshore drilling. While Bush called current restrictions "outdated and counterproductive," opponents claim that developing coastal oil reserves will harm the environment. Critics note that offshore drilling poses the risk of oil spills that would negatively affect marine life, destroy ecological habitats and damage coral reefs. Conservationists voice a similar objection to drilling in the Alaskan Wildlife Reserve, one of our nation's last remaining untouched wilderness areas. However, advocates of oil exploration — including the president himself — contend that improvements in technology have decreased the risk of such accidents and that drilling can be performed with relatively little harm to the environment.

Offshore drilling is just one piece of the larger energy-policy puzzle. As repeatedly noted on the campaign trail, our next president's stance on oil and natural gas will have strong implications for the economy, the environment and national security. With McCain and Obama so deeply divided on this issue, the energy debate is likely to become increasingly heated in the coming months. Whether the ban on offshore oil drilling is lifted, Democrats and Republicans agree that increasing oil supply alone cannot end America's energy crisis. According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the U.S. consumes 25 percent of the world's oil and natural gas but contains only 3 percent of its reserves. Bush admitted that, in the long-run, America must switch to alternative sources of energy and decrease its demand for oil altogether. As McCain and Obama fight for voters and gas prices continue to rise, the great energy debate is likely to continue — with no end in sight.

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