Unleashing the benefits of American energy

Millions of vacationing families will be hitting the highways this summer where, for the fourth year in a row, they'll face gas prices above $3.50 a gallon. Prices are already closing in on $4 a gallon, and the political upheaval in Iraq threatens to push them even higher. Costly fill-ups may seem like the new normal, but they do not have to be. The right energy policies can help ease future pain at the pump, as well as on the monthly electric bill, and for goods on store shelves. Even better, these policies can create new jobs in the process. Indeed, we can unleash the benefits of the American energy superpower — but only if the Obama administration embraces our potential.

For nearly a decade, domestic oil production has been on the rise thanks to American innovation and advancements in drilling technology. Imports from countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela have been supplanted by increasing domestic supplies from states like North Dakota and Texas. Add in the growing production from Canada, and North American oil independence by the end of the decade is a reachable goal.

Pump jacks and wells on the Monterey Shale formation in California
David McNew / Stringer | Getty Images News
Pump jacks and wells on the Monterey Shale formation in California

Even more remarkable is that America's oil resurgence has been achieved with one hand tied behind our backs by an administration hostile to abundant energy. Nonpartisan studies conducted for Congress reveal that virtually all of the increases in production have occurred on state and privately owned lands. But it is a much different story on the vast federally controlled onshore and offshore areas, where the Obama administration has clamped down on all but a trickle of new drilling.

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Despite the challenges, increased North American production is already having a positive effect. It has likely prevented oil prices from skyrocketing amid all the turmoil in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, as well as the sanctions on Iran. If Washington allowed more drilling on federal lands, we could gain additional protection from the price volatility caused by outside events and unforeseen global flare ups — and we might even find enough oil to cause a noticeable drop at the pump. In addition to keeping energy prices affordable, new domestic oil production could create over 500,000 additional energy industry jobs.

The story of American natural gas is just as promising. As with oil, many experts were convinced that the U.S. was well past its natural gas production peak, but breakthroughs in technology have sparked a dramatic turnaround. We now have enough natural gas to meet domestic needs affordably while also producing a surplus that could be exported. In fact, a DOE analysis showed the U.S. economy would experience "net economic benefits" from increased natural gas exports.

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Alongside coal, nuclear, and renewables, natural gas can contribute to a reliable and affordable electricity supply for many decades to come. It could also spark an American manufacturing renaissance among natural gas-using industries. The chemicals industry alone sees the potential for 148 new projects and over 600,000 manufacturing jobs in the years ahead.

Taken collectively, America has all of the abundant resources necessary to become an energy superpower. But federal red tape keeps getting in the way. Along with the limits on energy production from federal lands, there are many other artificial constraints. Roadblocks include the EPA's regulatory restrictions on coal use, which could boost electric bills, and upcoming rules on refineries that may add to the future price at the pump. New manufacturing projects continue to be blocked by regulatory obstacles, and bureaucratic delays are holding back U.S. energy exports.

One of the biggest obstacles is a lack of energy infrastructure that is capable of delivering abundant energy supplies to American consumers. Stranded energy doesn't do any good — it has to be transported to those who need it. The tremendous growth in oil and natural gas production necessitates a lot of new infrastructure projects, and many have been proposed. And these proposed pipeline projects will be safer than ever before thanks to our success in getting pipeline safety legislation signed into law.

We all know about Keystone XL, the pipeline that could support, according to the Obama administration's own estimates, up to 42,000 jobs while bringing enough Canadian oil into the U.S. to displace OPEC imports. Keystone XL has been blocked for nearly 6 years — the entirety of Obama's presidency — and we still don't know when or even if the president will make a decision on it. Other proposed oil and gas pipelines as well as electric transmission lines also face delays.

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Building the necessary infrastructure and regulatory systems, which we describe as the Architecture of Abundance, can create hundreds of thousands of jobs and contribute to making energy more plentiful and affordable. This could be great news for America, but sadly the endeavor has mostly gotten the cold shoulder from the administration, and hard-working Americans stand to pay the price. Higher prices at the pump, higher electric bills, higher prices for goods and services, higher food prices — the ripple effect of high energy costs affect everyone, but they harm the nation's poor and vulnerable the most.

When it comes to our "all-of-the-above" energy vision, we are not taking "no" for an answer. The House of Representatives next week will vote on bills to cut the red tape, get the energy flowing, and spark a jobs turnaround. This includes a bipartisan bill I authored to reform the approval process for cross-border energy infrastructure projects to ensure we don't experience any Keystone-XL delays in the future. We will also consider bipartisan legislation by Rep. Cory Gardner to expedite approval of LNG exports, which will support increased domestic energy production and job creation while supplying our allies abroad with an affordable and reliable source of energy. And this summer, we will also take action to harness our competitive energy advantage with Rep. Steve Scalise's bill to improve regulatory transparency and predictability, which will allow the construction of new factories.

It is time to say yes to "jobs" and affordable, abundant energy and unleash the American energy superpower.

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Commentary by Fred Upton, a congressman representing Michigan's 6th congressional district and the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Follow him on Twitter @RepFredUpton.