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Opinion: Energy security remains an important goal for California

The terrible images of oil rushing into the Gulf of Mexico have caused many Californians to rethink their notions of offshore oil exploration and production.  That’s understandable.  The Deepwater Horizon accident is tragic – for the workers who were killed and their families, for the residents living on the Gulf of Mexico who have been impacted by the spill, and for the environment.

As a transition proceeds in the Gulf from containment to clean up, it’s important to keep in mind the value of energy security, both to the nation and to the State of California. While the debate about offshore oil will continue for some time, let’s not forget the realities of our energy supplies and demands and the real life impacts on everyday Californians if those supplies are imperiled.

Let’s start with the basic facts.  

California uses close to 2 million barrels of oil each day.  We use it to make something in the neighborhood of 45 million gallons of gasoline and 12 million gallons of diesel fuel daily.  California is the third largest gasoline consuming entity on the planet, behind only the other forty-nine states and China.

Where does this oil come from?  A little more than a third comes from right here in California.  We produce about 680,000 barrels of oil in California every day and a bit more than 100,000 barrels, or 15 percent of our in-state production, comes from platforms in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Another 240,000 barrels of oil is from Alaska, shipped here in tankers from the North Slope.  The rest – 870,000 plus barrels per day – is produced in foreign countries and brought here in ships.  That’s just under half of the oil we depend on every day.  

What does all this have to do with the Deepwater Horizon accident?  We have listened to the calls to ban new offshore oil exploration and to shut down existing offshore production.  And the United States Department of Interior has been trying to block companies already operating offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean from conducting routine maintenance drilling in waters in excess of 500 feet.

It’s important that we be smart at the same time we are cautious.  We need to understand what happened in the Gulf of Mexico and what can be done to ensure it never happens again.  In the meantime, we can’t afford to disrupt the routine maintenance of oil production operations or worse, continually threaten to shut down existing offshore production.  Thousands of jobs are at risk in this debate and our struggling economy cannot afford any more shocks.

What was taking place in the Gulf of Mexico bears little resemblance to what occurs every day off the California coast.  The Deepwater Horizon was an exploratory drilling operation in water more than 5,000 feet deep.  Drilling operations were taking place from a floating vessel.  Safety equipment was located on an ocean floor accessible only by remotely operated vehicles.  And, as we now know, the oil was under tremendous pressure.

All of the offshore facilities in the Pacific are fixed-leg platforms that are securely anchored to the seabed.  The deepest structure is anchored in water just 1,200 feet deep.  Safety equipment, both on the ocean floor and the platforms themselves, is readily accessible if something goes wrong.  All of the platforms are producing oil from mature, well-documented reserves that are under little or no pressure.

Since 1970, those platforms have produced more than 1 billion barrels of oil for California consumers without a serious accident or incident.  According to federal safety regulators, in the past 40 years, only 850 barrels of oil have been accidentally spilled into the ocean from those platforms.

We also hear the suggestion that the Deepwater Horizon incident makes it imperative that we move away from petroleum-based energy and into the realm of renewable and alternative fuels and technologies.  We certainly support a diversified energy portfolio, one that combines conventional and next generation sources of energy.   More importantly, many of our members are leading the way into that realm with major research efforts and investments.

But we can’t get there overnight.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration predictsby the year 2030, despite huge growth predicted in alternative and renewable fuels, fossil fuels will still provide 78 percent of our nation’s energy needs. This is why it is so important for us to keep our eyes on energy security.  Energy security means jobs at home.  It means stable markets for essential fuels.  And it means greater control of our own destiny.


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