America’s Offshore Dilemma

Though boasting a significantly smaller population than countries such as China or India, the United States consumes more oil per year than any other country. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, the United States consumes roughly 7 billion barrels of oil annually, roughly 25% of all oil produced in the world. As such, our nation’s energy policy has been, and continues to be, almost entirely focused on oil production and importation.

While US oil consumption is great, the nation’s contribution to global oil production is quite limited. In fact, the US contributes less than 10% to global oil reserves each year, causing it to be heavily reliant on foreign oil imports to meet energy demands. While this has been the case for many years, the extent of our nation’s reliance on foreign oil has greatly varied over the past 50 years. While we imported just over 20% of our oil back in 1970, this number shot up considerably during the next couple of decades (to 60% in 2005). Prompted by fears over the consequences of being overly reliant on imports, efforts to increase domestic production have intensified in recent years. And much of this pressure has been directed towards offshore drilling activities in our coastal waters.

As I talk about in my paper, offshore drilling has becoming an increasingly important aspect of the U.S. energy policy. Improved technologies as well as government incentives have pushed the oil industry to ramp up exploration and drilling efforts in the United States Outer Continental Shelf. As such, the US has been able to gradually reduce its foreign dependence, but it has not come without significant costs.

In 2010, the U.S. witnessed the most devastating manmade disaster in its history when the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon exploded in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Spewing massive amounts of oil into the Gulf for 85 straight days, the accident demonstrated the potential perils of drilling in such deepwater environments. Almost four years after the spill, pressures to expand drilling activities are intensifying once again. And so, in my paper, I seek to make recommendations to federal officials (Congress and the President) about the role that offshore drilling should play moving forward.

With the support of much research, I implore our nation follow a balanced approach to offshore drilling. While recognizing its importance to both US oil needs as well as the economy, I also point out that the US must shift some focus to investments in renewable energy. In the end, I strongly believe that our nation must acknowledge the political and environmental costs of its ‘addiction’ to oil and, as such, must push towards a more sustainable policy.


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