Offshore Drilling: Costs vs. Benefits

The benefits of offshore oil drilling are far outweighed by the risks, Senator Bernie Sanders argued at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Tuesday. The senator questioned U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about a moratorium on offshore drilling in the aftermath of the April 20 blowout at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. At the hearing, Sanders noted that the U.S. Energy Information Administration has calculated that opening Atlantic and Pacific coastal waters to offshore drilling would increase the supply of oil by 2030 only enough to shave three-cents per gallon off the price of a gallon of gas. An easier, smarter way to bring down the price of gasoline – without the risks of catastrophic environmental and economic damage – is to raise fuel economy standards for new cars and light trucks sold in the United States. Making cars that get 35.5 miles per gallon of gas, as federal regulations will require, will save a dollar per gallon by 2030.

To watch the senator at the energy committee hearing, click here.

Here is how The New York Times live-blogged the hearing:

Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont mentioned a study that said that offshore drilling would cut the price of oil by only about three cents a gallon by 2030.

"Is three cents a gallon in 2030 worth the risk, and should we reinstate the moratorium?'' he asked. A moratorium on Atlantic drilling was in place until President Obama recently announced plans to lift it.

Mr. Salazar replied, "The reality is we will be depending on oil and gas as we transition to a new energy future.'' He added, "You are not going to turn off the lights of this country or the economy by shutting it all down.''

Mr. Sanders replied somewhat heatedly, "No one is talking about shutting it all down. We're talking about reinstating the moratorium.''

"I don't mean to be argumentative,'' Mr Salazar replied. But he pointed out that the administration has "hit "the ‘pause' button" on new permits.

"We will be making decisions about how we will move forward,'' he said.

Mr. Sanders flatly stated his own view on offshore drilling. "I don't think it's worth the risk,'' he said.

For the Energy Information Administration report on how offshore drilling would affect oil prices, click here.

For a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists on offshore drilling, click here.