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Another Voice: For offshore gas and oil drilling, the coast is clear

By Robert L. Bradley Jr.

By year’s end, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will likely issue a new draft of his five-year plan to expand energy drilling in America’s outer continental shelf, the submerged federal land off America’s coasts.

Unsurprisingly, the plan has environmentalists up in arms.

As soon as Zinke unveiled it back in January, a green coalition including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club said the plan would cause “severe and unacceptable (environmental) harm.”

Such concerns are unfounded. Expanding offshore drilling would help workers and all of us at the pump without harming the environment. The sooner the plan is implemented, the better.

Currently, drilling is prohibited in 94 percent of the outer continental shelf. The administration’s plan would open 90 percent of the area to energy exploration — and allow the most lease sales in American history. The short-term goal is to inventory America’s vast offshore mineral wealth. That oil and gas may be years away from extraction, but an energy-rich future begins now.

Zinke’s plan has been estimated to put 90 billion barrels of oil and 327 trillion cubic feet of natural gas into play. It could create more than 800,000 jobs, generate $200 billion in revenue for the federal government, and boost American energy production by as much as 3.5 million barrels of oil a day.

Every barrel is needed. Official forecasts see rising demand out for decades, not years. And even Peak Demand forecasters recognize the need for replenishment, not keep-it-in-the-ground policies.

As part of their fear-mongering efforts, environmentalists highlight the Macondo oil spill. In 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank, leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico. But this extremely rare, worst-case event should not stop leasing and offshore development; it should incite new-generation technology and improve best practices.

And it has. Take the blowout preventer, the type of valve that failed to stop the flow of oil and gas during BP’s oil spill. As part of a modernization effort, Noble Corp’s Gulf of Mexico division is working on an electrically powered blowout preventer. No matter how deep it is underwater, the new valve can shut with immense force - without leaking any fluid into marine habitats.

In all, reports the International Association of Drilling Contractors, “more than 100 offshore standards have been created or strengthened since 2010 to improve safety and many more are under active revisions, and state-of-the-art intervention and response capabilities have been developed.”

Expanding offshore drilling is a triple win for consumers, workers, and taxpayers. Damage to the environment will be very rare and subject to full restitution.

Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of Institute for Energy Research.

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