Opinion: Opening U.S. resources would boost job market

02 17, 2012 by Houston Chronicle

During the State of the Union - just moments after promising to "double down" on his commitment to clean energy - the president threw a bone to the oil and natural gas industry.

"We've opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration," said Obama. "And tonight, I'm directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources."

Two days later, the president repeated that promise in Las Vegas, framing it as part of an "all-out, all-in, all-of-the-above strategy" to develop domestic energy resources.

Sounds promising. Problem is, this messaging conveniently ignores that the administration has repeatedly blocked private industry attempts to actually develop these areas. There's a dangerous disconnect between the administration's promises and policies, and it's costing Americans jobs.

Consider the president's rejection of Keystone XL, a pipeline to transport crude oil from Canada down to refineries in Texas and Louisiana. The White House had tried to punt the question until after the November election. But Republicans inserted a provision into the recently signed payroll tax cut extension requiring the president to decide on Keystone within 60 days. His announcement came about a month before the final deadline. Denying Keystone XL needlessly delays North American energy development. And it deprives the American Midwest of tens of thousands of new jobs.

We're sitting on vast, untapped reserves of natural resources that hold the promise of huge economic growth. Trillions of dollars of oil and natural gas are ours for the developing. Yet policymakers continue to stand in the way.

Counting onshore and offshore reserves, America has an astonishing 189 billion barrels of oil and over 1 quadrillion cubic feet of natural gas. If U.S. shale gas resources are included, the U.S. has the largest technically recoverable oil and natural gas resources in the world. We have more than Saudi Arabia, six times more than Brazil and roughly nine times more than China.

Opening up these resources to serious and sustained development would greatly improve the U.S. job market. It's estimated that expanded access to oil and natural gas would generate 1.4 million jobs by 2030 - that's on top of the 9.2 million jobs the industry already supports. About one million of those new jobs are expected to be created within just seven years.

The jobs that stem from energy development aren't just confined to those directly related to exploration and production. Energy growth spurs activity in support industries, like transportation and food services. There's a substantial ripple effect for every new job created in this sector.

Expanding access to American energy resources would also mean huge returns for the federal Treasury from royalties, leases, bonus bids and corporate taxes. Today, the oil and natural gas industry generates $86 million a day for the federal treasury. Further development would mean even more public revenue.

Unfortunately, backward thinking continues to dominate policy making. The denial of the Keystone XL pipeline is a symptom of the broader anti-energy agenda pursued by President Obama and his allies. In recent years, the EPA, in conjunction with the Interior Department and a host of smaller agencies, has launched a regulatory blizzard imposing huge new costs and delays on energy projects.

Regulators have also kept the vast majority of accessible energy reserves legally off-limits. Approximately 85 percent of America's continental offshore acreage is closed to exploration over the next 5 years and 60 percent of onshore federal lands are inaccessible. Meanwhile, the leasing and permitting process for new projects is slow and inefficient.

We need a course correction. Reform has to include opening up federal areas for exploration, including the eastern Gulf of Mexico, offshore areas in Alaska and the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. Next, regulations need to be streamlined to prevent unnecessary costs and delay.

America has an excellent opportunity to take advantage of its vast energy resources and generate the jobs and growth the country so desperately needs. Policymakers need to open their minds, abandon unnecessary new regulations, and let the energy sector lead us into a brighter economic future.

Jack Gerard is the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.