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Off-Shore Drilling: Could Both Sides Be "Right" On The Issue?

Monday, 14 Jul 2008 | 4:17 PM ET

Rather than parsing the predictable Democrat vs. Republican dueling over wider offshore drilling, as President Bush opted for today, it’s worth noting just how the ineffectual Washington’s feuding is in solving our multiple energy problems.

The good thing, obscured by all the partisan obfuscation, is both sides’ have some merit.

Better yet are the outside the Beltway suggestions, such as that contained in this op-ed piece that ran in the Houston Chronicle from Kenneth Medlock, an energy expert at Houston’s Rice University.

Taking on the charge that more drilling merely extends our ‘oil addiction’ Medlock proposes we earmark all future royalities from new offshore drilling for researching and developing alternative energy, which we currently grossly underfund.

That way, he says, “these domestic resources would indeed serve only as a bridge to a new energy future.” In recent years these royalities average about $6 billion a year - $142 from 1982.

This seems critical because for all the recent bloviating about reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we are actually on a pretty clear course for increased dependence.

We currently import 60 percent but that is set to rise to 68 percent by 2025 when our demand will have soared to 27.9 million barrels per day, up from 20 million in 2003. See this useful taxpayer-fund primer.

Natural gas, which we depend on foreigners for just 15 percent off current needs is set to increase dramatically.

Properly handled it’s possible for newly expanded offshore areas to yield an additional million barrels per day of oil – on top of the 2.25 million to be pumped out per day by 2011 - which could slash our import dependence on Persian Gulf crude oil by about 40 percent, according to Medlock’s reckoning.

Now if that can be accomplished with the zero platform spills (well, nothing greater than 1,00 barrels) over the last 15 years (a far better record than tankers), as documented by a National Academy of Sciences study – well, why not? Maybe energy firms would even be willing to pay more if they don't stick to this impressive record.

Questions? Comments? energysource@cnbc.com