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Drill bits: The uphill battle to lift domestic restrictions Update: McCain. Ugh.

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By Michelle Malkin  •  June 11, 2008 02:41 PM

GOP Rep. John Peterson of Pennsylvania offered an amendment a year ago to permit offshore natural gas drilling. It was defeated 196-233 by do-nothing Democrats now panicked over high gas prices and forecasts of declining energy supplies from non-OPEC nations.

Peterson is pushing his amendment again today before a House Appropriations subcommittee, but it’s another uphill battle. For the Dems, you see, doing something about energy independence ain’t as fun as whining about it:

Supporters of a proposal to allow drilling for oil and gas off the U.S. coastline are expected to make their case to a House panel Wednesday.

Offshore oil and gas production has been banned off most of the U.S. coastline since Congress approved the Outer Continental Shelf moratorium in 1981, which prevented the leasing of coastal waters for fossil fuel development.

Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., wants to change that with an amendment to the Interior Department spending bill to be considered by a House Appropriations subcommittee. The amendment would lift the prohibition on exploration 50 to 200 miles offshore but continue to ban drilling within 50 miles of the coastline.

“For 27 years, Congress has deliberately locked-up vast offshore oil and natural gas reserves,” Peterson said. “With the price at the pump increasing daily — with no end in sight — and the cost of natural gas trading at record levels, Congress needs to unlock these reserves.”

He cites estimates from the Minerals Management Service that there are 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas located offshore.

The Senate and the White House, kowtowing to California and Florida electoral interests, actually oppose the measure. So does Barack Obama. McCain is straddling with a “let the states decide whether to drill…unless it’s too ‘ecologically sensitive’” response and is more comfortable peddling Hillary/Edwards-style demagoguing of the oil industry’s “obscene profits.”

Promising on-shore areas also remain untouchable. Background via the WSJ:

A century and a half after oil production began, there is ample evidence that a lot of oil — and natural gas — remains to be found in the U.S. and its territorial waters. Some of those areas are wide open to oil companies, including most of the Gulf of Mexico where deep-water floating rigs now routinely drill wells hundreds of miles from shore. Even in the gulf, areas are off limits, including most of the waters off the Florida coast. The entire East and West Coasts are off limits for new drilling.

Last week, Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Rex Tillerson chided President Bush for asking Saudi Arabia to boost its production, while not doing more to increase production at home in the U.S., particularly off the coasts of Florida and California.

“There is no question in my mind that there is significant conventional resources available,” Mr. Tillerson said in an interview last week. “If you are looking for larger fields, they will probably be found in the offshore areas that are currently off limits.”

Those offshore areas are closed to exploration and drilling under congressional moratoriums and presidential executive orders that command broad support among elected officials in the politically powerful states of California and Florida. Opening these areas up could prove nettlesome.

Little data exist about how much oil and gas might be found under the waters now closed for exploration. Federal agencies are prevented from doing rudimentary geological surveys in most areas to pinpoint areas of interest. The last time the industry shot seismic imagery was in the 1970s when this widely used search technology was in its infancy.

Other promising areas onshore also are off-limits. In a report last week, the federal Bureau of Land Management stated that at current U.S. consumption levels there are four years worth of oil and 10 years worth of natural gas under federal lands. However, more than 90% of that energy was under lands either closed to development or open with significant environmental restrictions. The federal Minerals Management Service said an additional three years worth of oil and gas is in offshore areas where drilling isn’t allowed.

See also: Energy Lesson in drilling vs. production.

***

Latest from the Energy Department: Oil and gas prices are staying up.

Update: McCain. Ugh.

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