There’s a lot more at stake for America on November 6th than Sesame Street or free contraceptives for female grad students. Like, for example, whether or not anti-carbon regulatory obstructionism based upon flawed science and crony politics will continue to escalate energy costs, kill jobs, and sabotage success-proven free market competition.
The Obama administration’s most recent assault on fossil energy development is a little-noticed Interior Department August decision to close off drilling on nearly half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA). Not to be confused with either the Strategic Petroleum Reserve or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the desolate 23 million acre NPRA region was first established as an oil reserve for the U.S. Navy in 1923. In 1976, Congress designated it as a strategic oil and natural gas stockpile to meet the “energy needs of the nation.” According to U.S. Geological Survey estimates, NPRA contains about 2.7 billion barrels of oil, and 114.36 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has now declared that the new plan to wall off the most productive part of NPRA “will help the industry bring energy safely to market from this remote location, while also protecting wildlife and subsistence rights of Alaska natives.” Alaska Senator Mark Begich, Senator Lisa Murkowski, and Representative Don Young see the government grab gambit very differently, calling it “the largest wholesale land withdrawal and blocking of access to an energy resource by the federal government in decades.” They argue that the ruling “will significantly limit options for a pipeline” through the reserve that is badly needed to transport oil and gas from the Chukchi Sea, the North Slope, and future Arctic drilling locations.
Although Conoco Phillips wants to build a road bridge and pipeline over the Coleville River on the edge of NPRA to move drilling supplies in and oil and gas out, the Army Corps of Engineers, backed by environmental groups, said no. Meanwhile, the Interior Department has set aside about 285,000 acres of land in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah development for solar energy. The federal government is also fast-tracking permitting approvals and preferential free market-busting incentives to get it going.
Restricting access to NPRA follows the same ideological mindset that prompted Obama’s nixing of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline earlier this year. That kick in the pants of our neighbor to the north was a big kiss on the lips for Hugo Chavez. It avoided substituting Venezuelan heavy-tar oil used in Gulf Coast refineries with a similar product from near-by Canadian friends. Figures recently released by EIA reveal that the U.S. currently buys an average 869,000 barrels of Venezuelan crude per day. Romney has pledged to immediately approve Keystone and change that.
When Romney noted during the second presidential debate that the Obama administration hasn’t promoted production of fossil resources on federal lands and waters, but in fact, has done just the opposite, the president flatly denied that was true. He said: “We’ve opened up public lands. We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration.” Romney then replied: “But that’s not what you’ve done in the last four years. That’s the problem. In the last four years you cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.” He also pointed out that oil production on government land is down 14%, and gas is down by 9%.
Although Obama repeatedly argued that Romney was wrong, he wasn’t. Not according to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) figures. Oil and gas production on federal lands fell 13% in fiscal 2011 compared with 2010. EIA also reports that total fossil fuel production in public areas (including coal), has plunged to a nine-year low, to 18.6 quadrillion BTUs from 21.2 quadrillion in 2003.
While overall domestic energy production is up, thanks largely to a shale fracking boom on private land in states like Pennsylvania and North Dakota, Obama doesn’t deserve any credit for that. In fact, his EPA has been searching for an excuse to restrict this as well.
Remarkably, the president also represented himself in the last debate as a coal guy. Yup, this is the same fellow who declared following his 2008 election that he wanted electricity rates for so-called dirty fuels to “necessarily skyrocket”, and that “if somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can…it’s just that it will bankrupt them.”
With enthusiastic help from his EPA, plus lots of free market price competition from cheaper natural gas, that’s one promise that’s materializing. Pointless and costly new overkill restrictions on trace mercury emissions issued by the EPA last year will only hasten coal’s decline. An estimated of 8.5% of our nation’s coal-fired electricity plants are projected to close by 2016, and 17% by 2020. Even without that EPA rule, the industry is likely to be in for a rough time, regardless which party controls the Congress and White House.
This article originally appeared at Forbes.