David banks column we can be optimistic about america’s energy security their opinion richmond.com electricity font


Many of their objections are vague or unsupported: Offshore drilling is unsafe. It conflicts with coastal tourism. It runs counter to efforts to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In Virginia’s case, Northam based his opposition among other things on yet unknown — if any — impacts on clams and oysters, and the fact that it isn’t known how much money the commonwealth might receive from royalties.

There are legitimate issues — such as compatibility with operations at NASA’s Wallops Island and the Navy’s training programs — that must be considered before energy activities are launched. But offshore development is not incompatible, for example, with recreation and tourism, especially if rigs are beyond the horizon and can’t be seen from shore.

Moreover, the industry has made great strides in improving drilling technologies and, particularly, blowout preventers. Lessons learned from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico have informed improvements in existing safety standards and the creation of many new standards for equipment and best practices on spill prevention and response capabilities. Importantly, the oil and gas industry launched the Center for Offshore Safety to help offshore operators develop and monitor safety systems.

Opponents of offshore drilling seem to close their eyes to the fact that it accounts for a substantial amount of the oil the country requires for transportation and natural gas for electricity production, home heating, and manufacturing. We use far more oil and gas today than at any time in our history, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that oil and gas will supply 60 percent of the nation’s energy needs in 2040, all the while worldwide energy demand will continue to grow. The basic attractions of oil and gas — relatively low cost and great abundance — can drive environmental lobbies to distraction.

While opposing offshore drilling, Northam touts renewable energy, saying it’s doing very well and creating good jobs in Virginia. The governor and environmental groups prefer solar and wind energy, but despite massive government subsidies, combined they meet just 7 percent of U.S. demand for electricity and only 3.2 percent of the nation’s total energy needs.

This doesn’t deter environmentalists from raising public expectations about renewables, although utility-scale storage for large amounts of renewable electricity must yet be invented. Solar and wind require backup power from natural gas on days when the sun isn’t shining, about half the time, and the wind isn’t blowing, also about half the time.

Bottom line: Natural gas is cheaper than solar and wind, and its economic value is likely to become even more pronounced as subsidies for solar and wind are discontinued and increasing numbers of coal-fired and nuclear plants are closed. It is popular due to its abundance as a cheap, low-carbon fuel produced from rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and on-land shale fields. The environmental benefits from increased gas production are noteworthy: Since 2012, carbon dioxide emissions from electricity production have fallen to mid-1990s levels.

There’s good reason to be optimistic about America’s energy security, thanks in part to offshore oil and gas production. Today we import much less oil from OPEC countries and the Middle East generally. Just 10 years ago the United States sent $440 billion overseas to pay for imported oil — and that didn’t include billions more to import liquefied natural gas before we began to reap the benefits of our own resources and began exporting LNG.

As the country anticipates the additional energy needed in the years ahead, the most logical and prudent next step for oil and gas is to assess the locations and quality of the oil and natural gas awaiting discovery beneath the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. We would be taking a huge gamble to think we could meet our everyday energy needs and compete in international markets without being prepared to tap these offshore oil and gas resources.