Anthony Scholefield is the Director of Futurus, a think tank specializing in EU and immigration matters and is also a member of the Global Vision Academic Council. His latest booklet, published by the Social Affairs Unit in 2007, is ‘Warning: Immigration Can Seriously Damage Your Wealth’. In this extended Platform he argues that America must scrap restrictions on drilling for oil.
As the American economy crashes into what is becoming more than a recession and more like a slump, some of the political class’ most cherished beliefs are coming under attack. These are fixed beliefs that are harmful to ordinary voters and are based on illusions, self-deception and lack of reasoning, but which have an ideological stranglehold over the political class and the media.
There are plenty of hallucinatory ideological strangleholds among the British political class, among which the alleged benefits of the EU membership, mass immigration and public spending stand out as the most damaging.
In the USA, many forecast that illegal immigration would be the first policy area where some reality would take hold of the political class but, in the event, it now looks as though a hallucination peculiar to the USA, the influence of extreme environmentalists in preventing drilling for oil in the USA itself, will be the first casualty and awakening from this hallucination may determine the election.
It is certainly a peculiar fact that the United States, far and away the biggest oil consumer, has, for the last twenty-five years, been the only country in the world with a restrictive policy on oil exploration – restrictive to such an extent that 97% of Federal offshore areas are not available, one way or another, for exploration and 94% of federal onshore areas are not available for exploration.
In the meantime, the 12 million barrels of oil imported by the USA at, say, $120 a barrel, is costing 1.5 billion dollars a day. This in turn has knock-on effects on the trade deficit and the increased unwillingness of foreign investors to trust the dollar.
There has been a one-way orientation of the political class on the
question of restricting oil and gas drilling in the United States and
concentration on green and conservation issues. After all, it was the
first President Bush who signed the Presidential ban on offshore
exploration (in most of the US except the western Gulf of Mexico and
parts of Alaska), Governor Jeb Bush, who stopped exploration in Florida
territorial waters ‘permanently’ and Bill Clinton who banned
exploration throughout the Arctic Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in
Alaska. There were two bans on drilling, one by the President and one,
renewed annually, by Congress.
But this political class monoculture is disintegrating and will likely bust wide open with enormous political effects.
What appears to have triggered off the policy reversal were hearings in
the US House of Representatives on 21st May 2008 where US legislators
made a big effort to show they could outdo the European Parliament in
breaking the laws of supply and demand and those of common sense.
They passed a bill to make it ‘a violation of this Act to limit the
production or distribution of oil, natural gas or any other petroleum
product etc’ – called in short the NOPEC bill as it was aimed at the
OPEC oil exporters.
Certainly oil prices are high and maybe there is even a shortage of
supply but who is limiting the supply of ‘the production and
distribution of oil’. It is the US Congress, the President and some of
the states who have blocked any drilling for oil in most of the Gulf of
Mexico, the entire Atlantic and Pacific continental shelves and nearly
all of the Alaska offshore shelves as well as onshore Federal lands.
Altogether there are over 4 million square miles in offshore US
Subsequent to the passing of the NOPEC bill, the Judiciary Committee of
the US Senate held hearings on 21st May at which the leaders of all the
major US oil companies were lined up and expected to be ceremonially
tarred and feathered.
Instead, the Senators were devastated by some forthright testimony,
which mightily impressed outsiders, including this by John Hofmeister,
President of Shell Oil Company:
“According to the Department of the Interior 62 per cent of all onshore
federal lands are off limits to oil and gas developments (much of the
rest has crippling restrictions), with restrictions applying to 92 per
cent of all federal lands. We have an outer continental shelf
moratorium in the Atlantic Ocean, an outer continental shelf moratorium
on the Pacific Ocean, an outer continental shelf moratorium in the
eastern Gulf of Mexico, congressional bans on on-shore oil and gas
activities in specific areas of the Rockies (massive oil shale
deposits) and Alaska and even a congressional ban on doing an analysis
of the resource potential for oil and gas in the Atlantic, Pacific and
eastern Gulf of Mexico.”
“The problem of access can be solved in this country by the same
government that has prohibited it. Congress could have chosen to lift
some or all of the current restrictions on exploitation and production
of oil and gas.”
There really was not much else to be said, apart from noting that
Congress had prevented any new oil refineries being built for 30 years
via its Clean Air legislation, while the US population increased by 100
Hofmeister also agreed that up to 2 trillion barrels of oil could be
available if drilling was allowed in the oil shales in the western US.
The final farce is being played out off in the waters off Florida where
the US and Cuba both have territorial waters and the Cuban zone extends
to within 45 miles of the Florida coastline. Not to be outdone by the
US Congress, the Florida legislature bans drilling within its own
territorial waters and is buying out and preventing oil drilling in
most onshore areas. Yet the Cubans allowed oil drilling concessions to
Venezuela and China in its territorial waters and the Chinese made a
big find just 50 miles from Florida. The Republican administration in
Florida trumpets its elimination of offshore drilling in 2005 as “The
state’s continual commitment to improve environmental quality means
Florida’s coastal waters and natural reserves are permanently protected
from the threat of offshore development”.
Radical environmentalism appeals to the elite but is seriously harming
ordinary Americans. The Republican bien pensant Schwarzenegger has
said, “As Governor of California, I will do everything in my power to
fight the federal government on this issue and prevent any new offshore
drilling.” (18/6/08) The Schwarzenegger thesis is babyish and
irresponsible. As long as Californians use oil, he is quite happy for
it to come from elsewhere.
Events after the May Hearings became fast moving. Vice President
Cheney called for drilling for oil to be allowed in restricted areas
and President Bush lifted the Presidential ban on the Continental
Shelves on 15th July. Senator McCain also supported this but is still
trapped in opposing drilling in the Arctic which he calls a ‘pristine
area’. Yet the USA is begging other countries to increase energy
supplies, often from more attractive areas than the uninhabited Alaskan
The Democrats, and Barack Obama in particular, are still in favour of the oil drilling bans – for now.
Nancy Pelosi, even on 10.7/08, said “The call for drilling in areas
that are protected is a hoax, its an absolute hoax on the part of the
Republicans and this administration”.
But some Democrats are waking up and even Senate Majority Leader, Harry
Reid, has said, “I’m not knee-jerk opposed to drilling” and is talking
about more surveys and quicker oil leases. Other Democrats are
responding to their constituents and moving against the elite
So it is an issue that is fluid although it is inevitable the drilling
ban must go. The dollar cannot take much more stress. The Republicans
have been handed a winning campaign issue and can still make it their
campaign winner with Obama still stranded among the wind farmers and
Opinion polls show voters are 2-1 in favour of drilling in the US. The
critical electoral fact is that support is highest in the swing states
of the mid-West, far from the oceans and less influenced by radical
Congressional Republicans and President Bush are now trying to help
with bills to allow drilling. President Bush has urged Congress not to
leave Washington until it lifts its own drilling ban. John Boehner,
minority House Leader, said about the leading Democrats, “They worship
at the altar of radical environmentalists”. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker,
said “I am trying to save the planet”, although it is difficult to
square this with the NOPEC bill.
The economic crisis is now the central political issue in the USA and
is slowly morphing into an oil price crisis. It is reported that the
Democrats’ private polls show the details of the drilling bans are
breaking through to the electorate. Rush Limbaugh has said, “It is a
Hanging over the heads of the Democrats is the need to renew the Congressional ban on drilling in September.
The political fact is that, when all political parties are in the grip
of the same hallucination, the one that wakes up first is likely to get
the advantage, while its opponents are still shaking off the effects of
the intoxication. But, as McCain must demonstrate, that political
party needs to be fast and to be radical. He needs to jettison the
whole of the unique restrictive drilling legislation of the last 30