As gas prices race toward $4 a gallon for South Carolinians, new proposals in Congress could open more off-shore drilling -- measures Upstate Republican leaders say could ease pain at the pump and the state's sole Congressional Democrat said won't cut gas prices.
U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C. who serves on the House Natural Resources committee, is an original co-sponsor of three bills -- one that passed the House last week and two going for vote this week -- that he said would bring energy cost relief.
"The market will respond to America saying we're going to stop this problem using American resources for American energy issues," said Duncan, who represents the state's 3rd Congressional District. "That's deep water, near-shore drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf, that's opening up some federal lands to exploration and drilling to meet our energy needs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil."
Duncan expects an immediate drop in oil prices would result from passage of the bills, even before production. When former President Bush lifted a moratorium on the Outer Continental Shelf in 2008 and allowed exploration, "the price of a barrel of oil went down $9 before he finished his speech," Duncan said.
The bills are part of the House Republicans' American Energy Initiative, an array of bills focused on expanding renewable energy, onshore production, hydropower, coal, and critical minerals.
House Assistant Minority Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., opposes all three, saying Republican drill-only plan won't lower oil prices and called for an end to "corporate welfare" for big oil companies.
"I won't jump on the "drill, baby, drill' train every time gas prices go up. Increased oil drilling in accordance with these bills will not make a dent on oil prices," Clyburn said. "What we need to do in the short term is to stop protecting multi-million dollar corporate welfare checks for big oil, crack down on crude oil speculators and open the strategic oil reserves to give motorists an immediate price cut at the pump."
The government estimates that opening up waters that are currently closed to drilling off the East Coast, West Coast and the west coast of Florida would yield only 500,000 barrels a day by 2030, when the world will likely be consuming more than 100 million barrels per day, Clyburn said.
"In the long term, we must increase our investments in alternative fuel sources -- biofuels, hydrogen, wind, solar, and nuclear -- to wean America off foreign oil controlled by countries that don't have our best interest at heart," Clyburn said.
U.S. 4th District Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., voted for the bill passed by the House last week and plans to vote in favor of both others in their current form, said Robert Hughes, Gowdy's spokesman.
"Congressman Gowdy supports an all of the above energy policy designed to vastly increase the production of American-made energy -- creating jobs, encouraging innovation, and most importantly, reducing costs for our citizens," Hughes said. "Offshore drilling is a key component of that broader strategy to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and decrease the economic burden high gas prices are placing on American families."
Duncan said high gas prices "aren't going away" unless leases and drilling permits, essentially shut down after the Deepwater Horizon disaster last year, are expedited.
"Over 40,000 wells were drilled in the Gulf of Mexico in the history of deep water drilling and we've had one major incident. I'm not trying to belittle that at all. It was terrible. I think we've learned from that," said Duncan, who previously served on a Department of the Interior Outer Continental Shelf five-year planning subcommittee under the Bush administration.
After Deepwater Horizon, President Obama issued a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico that stopped all of the 52 active drilling permits in the Gulf at that time, "where folks were trying to find the resources," Duncan said.
The moratorium was lifted in October, however, only 7 of the 52 permits have been reissued, "even though the energy companies said they met every (safety) requirement," Duncan said.
Together, the three bills would require the secretary of the interior to conduct oil and natural gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Virginia that have been delayed or cancelled by the Obama Administration; would end what Duncan calls a "de facto moratorium" in the Gulf of Mexico by setting firm time-lines for considering permits to drill, and would require the Obama Administration to move forward with energy production in offshore areas containing the most oil and natural gas resources.
Like Virginia, which wants to harvest natural gas in a small area off its coast, South Carolina also has potential natural gas resources, Duncan said.
Duncan said he wants "to open up those areas for exploration, not necessarily production right away, but exploration so we can find out what's there."