Wash. Post, LA Times failed to note Energy Department's assessment of effect of offshore drilling on oil prices

››› ››› JEREMY HOLDEN

The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times each reported that "Democrats and environmental groups" say that allowing new offshore drilling would not have an effect on oil and gas prices in the next several years. They did not note that it is not just Democrats and environmental groups that say this: The Bush Energy Department has determined that production from offshore drilling "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030" and that such production is expected to have an "insignificant" effect on "average wellhead prices."

In a July 15 Washington Post article, staff writers Dan Eggen and Steven Mufson reported that "[President] Bush argued that allowing drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines would ease pressure on oil prices by increasing domestic production" and that "Democrats and environmental groups replied that expanding offshore oil production would take years and have no impact on oil prices for a decade or more." Similarly, in a July 15 Los Angeles Times article, staff writers Richard Simon and James Gerstenzang reported, "Democrats and environmentalists said that even if obstacles to new drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico were quickly lifted, the resulting gasoline would be years away, as refineries are running at or near capacity -- so there would be little or no immediate effect on supplies or prices." But neither article noted that in addition to Democrats and environmental groups, the Bush Energy Department has determined that production from offshore drilling "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030," or that such production is expected to have an "insignificant" effect on "average wellhead prices," which Mufson himself noted in a July 14 Washington Post article.

In his July 14 article, Mufson reported:

A report last year by the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said that "access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017." It added, "Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

This is not the first time the Post has reported on the potential effects of offshore drilling without noting the Energy Department's estimates, as Media Matters for America documented.

From the July 15 Washington Post article:

President Bush yesterday lifted a presidential ban on offshore oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf that was implemented by his father, escalating a confrontation with Democrats in Congress over how to cope with soaring gas prices.

Lifting the presidential moratorium has no immediate effect on exploration because Congress has enacted its own prohibitions on offshore drilling every year since the 1980s as part of the Interior Department's appropriations bill, and congressional Democrats yesterday vowed to do so again.

But Bush's move carries symbolic and political significance on an emotional issue in an election year. In a Rose Garden statement at the White House yesterday, Bush argued that allowing drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines would ease pressure on oil prices by increasing domestic production. Bush also urged Congress to approve other steps, such as allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and he blamed Democratic opposition to drilling for the current run-up in gasoline prices.

"We need to take action now to expand domestic oil production," Bush said, adding later: "With this action, the executive branch's restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away. This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress."

Democrats and environmental groups replied that expanding offshore oil production would take years and have no impact on oil prices for a decade or more. They urged oil companies to make greater use of federal lands and waters already open to exploration. And they pressed Bush to back other measures, such as releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to lower the price of oil now.

"People who tell us that the solution to our problem is drilling offshore are peddling our addiction," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "The drug is oil, and they don't want us to get off it."

From the July 15 Los Angeles Times article:

President Bush lifted a long-standing White House ban Monday on new oil and gas drilling off the nation's coastlines and pressured Congress to take a similar step, stoking the battle over how Washington should respond to high gasoline prices.

Bush's decision to lift the executive order, which was imposed by his father in 1990 and renewed by President Clinton, will have no effect unless Congress cancels its own ban on offshore drilling.

But with the price of gasoline sitting above $4 a gallon, his action places the possibility of new drilling squarely in the public debate and gives him a political cudgel. Lawmakers are increasingly nervous about high gas prices in an election year, and Bush made clear he intended to use the pro-drilling argument against Congress' majority party.

"With this action, the executive branch's restrictions on this exploration have been cleared away," he told reporters in the White House Rose Garden.

"This means that the only thing standing between the American people and these vast oil resources is action from the U.S. Congress.

"Now the ball is squarely in Congress' court," he added. "Democratic leaders can show that they have finally heard the frustrations of the American people by matching the action I have taken today."

Some drilling advocates have cited estimates that 18 billion barrels of oil could be recovered.

Democrats and environmentalists said that even if obstacles to new drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf of Mexico were quickly lifted, the resulting gasoline would be years away, as refineries are running at or near capacity -- so there would be little or no immediate effect on supplies or prices.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), rejecting the president's challenge, countered that Bush should tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to lower prices by increasing supplies.

He has refused to do so, arguing that the reserve was created to relieve a national emergency.

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