President Bush keeps repeating his call for Congress to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling. Republican presidential candidate John McCain is consistently drilling home the same message. And on Wednesday of last week, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said that just in case the ban is lifted, his department is laying the groundwork so offshore drilling in new areas could begin in as few as three years.
What drilling proponents don't say is that even if the congressional ban were lifted, many of the most promising untapped offshore areas would likely remain off-limits to oil and gas exploration.
Bush, McCain, and GOP congressional leaders all say that states should decide whether to open their shorelines to drilling -- and that states should get a share of drilling royalties as an inducement to say yes. But many governors and other leaders in coastal states are saying, "No, thanks!"
Some 8.3 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico were opened up to drilling by a bill signed into law two years ago, so Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi don't matter much in this debate.
What's at stake is an estimated 18 billion barrels of oil off the coasts of other states.
Some 10 billion of that is in Californian waters, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) wants it left alone. He has aggressively challenged his partymates on the issue, saying anyone who suggests that offshore drilling would lower gas prices is "blowing smoke." Chances are slim that Arnie and other state lawmakers would permit drilling near their shores anytime soon (even though a slim majority of Californians now support it).
Other West Coast governors are of the same mind. On July 29, Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) joined Schwarzenegger in a vow to fight the push for more offshore drilling.
In June, New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) and North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley (D) spoke out against offshore drilling, citing the damage it could do to their states' tourism, real estate, and natural resources. "Our economy is driven by tourism and use of the shore," said Corzine. "I think we would have a hard time getting public support for this concept." Likewise, Easley said he didn't believe the North Carolina legislature would approve offshore drilling.
In the Northeast, Maine Gov. John Baldacci (D) and other political leaders say "no way," fearing for their state's fishing industry and environment. Massachusetts tried offshore drilling up until 1982, and found there wasn't much oil there -- plus opposition to drilling from Bay Staters is "fierce," writes Boston Globe reporter Beth Daley. Maryland's governor is opposed. Neither Delaware nor Rhode Island has much shoreline to tap. And if Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell (R) is in favor of offshore drilling, she hasn't said so yet (she didn't bring it up in a recent speech on energy issues).
It's proved politically unpopular in Virginia as well, where the state legislature killed two bills that endorsed the notion of offshore drilling in June (though Democratic Gov. Timothy Kaine says he"s open to exploration).
Florida's leaders long maintained a bipartisan opposition to drilling -- until a few weeks ago. After McCain flipped on the issue in June, Gov. Charlie Crist (R), who is interested in being McCain's vice president, followed suit -- albeit unenthusiastically. Other Florida Republicans have also backed McCain's drilling call, and a number of Florida voters are shifting in the same direction -- a recent Quinnipiac poll found that public support for drilling has jumped from 50 to 60 percent in the state. But even Republican U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez has fought to keep rigs at least 125 miles off the state's Gulf Coast, where tourists like to hang out. And most Democratic leaders in the state remain bitterly opposed.
South Carolina legislators have also indicated that they"re game for offshore drilling, but Gov. Mark Sanford (R) says he opposes it. "We would certainly have some hesitation just based upon tourism and the natural beauty along the coast," said a spokesperson for the guv. "We certainly wouldn't want to do anything that would kill the goose that laid the golden egg." The good news for Sanford: Geologists say there's almost no oil off the state's coast.
A recent Gallup Poll found that 57 percent of Americans said they would support drilling in places currently off limits if it would bring down gas prices. But that's a big "if." Economists and energy experts say drilling wouldn't do a dang thing for prices in the short term, and very little in the long term. And the lack of either political will or available oil reserves in most coastal states makes drilling even less of a practical answer to high gas prices.
As members of Congress head home to their districts for August recess, Bush, McCain, and other Republican leaders continue to blame congressional Democrats for blocking offshore drilling -- but Dems in Congress are clearly not the only people standing between oil companies and the outer continental shelf.