Offshore energy development offers California an opportunity

by Jack M. Stewart
April 15, 2008
Special to the San Jose Mercury News

California needs help. Statewide, 10 percent of workers are seeking jobs, and in communities like Sacramento and San Jose, more than 11 percent of Californians are out of work. But expanded energy development could provide the tourniquet we need, and help put an end to this unrelenting hemorrhaging of jobs while we ease our dependence on foreign oil.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, along with the Minerals Management Service, is stopping in San Francisco this week as part of a nationwide tour gauging public reaction on calls for expanded offshore drilling. For a state in search of stable economic footing, the energy industry can provide the foundation on which to climb.

Since 2001, our state has lost more than 520,000 manufacturing jobs almost 30 percent of its industrial base and eliminated roughly 730,000 private-sector jobs. These trends will lead California to ruin. However, expanding the safe, clean exploration of America's native resources would create 23,000 new jobs and generate more than $420 billion in federal, state and local revenue. Expanded energy development is a step in the right direction.

Many industry jobs would be high-paying and technically intensive, and the money generated through royalty payments, taxes and revenues could help fund schools, roads, hospitals and the essential safety nets so many Californians rely upon. Payments received through expanded exploration would also help to fight the state's budget deficit, which is expected to swell to $15 billion over the next 18 months. Increased oil and natural gas exploration is the right remedy at the right time, for the right reasons.

And it's not just California that would gain from increased exploration. The production of oil and natural gas in the federal lands, until recently off limits, could generate nearly $1.7 trillion in government revenue nationwide. By adding those resources to our existing oil and natural gas fields, America could see roughly $4 trillion dollars in total revenue from exploration and production.

This is critical revenue for our nation when it's most needed, and it's a message Secretary Salazar needs to understand.

The exploration and development of oil and natural gas presents a solution worth thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue. Renewable and alternative sources of fuel are an important part of the energy mix, but right now, they are unable to deliver the energy we need and the economic solutions we are looking for. Simply put, if California focuses solely on alternative and renewable sources of energy development, then we will restrict our opportunities for economic growth and stable energy supply.

Offshore energy development is safe and it is clean. Through advanced technology, the oil and natural gas industry has reduced its environmental footprint and minimized any lasting impact on ecosystems or surrounding wildlife. The industry goes about its business finding, developing and delivering oil while leaving the earth nearly untouched a fact all Californians need to remember.

Today's technology allows a single offshore platform to develop an extensive area with production from as many as 10 remote subsea installations in up to 10,000 feet of water. And it can do so safely. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, since 1970 less than 850 barrels of oil have been accidentally introduced into the marine environment from offshore oil activities in federal waters off the California coast.

While that's still 850 barrels too many, more oil is introduced into the ocean from natural seeps off the coast of Santa Barbara every week than has been spilled by offshore oil operations in the past nearly 40 years.

Every day, industry, business and households across America rely on a steady supply of traditional fuels. Through the safe, clean expansion of drilling, California can play a major role in contributing to these domestic needs, and in part, help close the looming gap between those employed and those searching for work. Finally, California, our opportunity is at hand.

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