Stricter offshore drilling rules upset industry; ‘bad news for Louisiana,’ Sen. David Vitter says _lowres

A more certain market buoyed by higher oil prices and more demand is key to increasing drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico.

America set a record with 10 million barrels of oil a day produced in November 1970. Since then, that number declined. Alarmists have talked about “peak oil” — and the ensuing global shortfall that would crater the world’s industrial economies.

But experts are currently debating whether American producers have beaten that 1970 record; final data is to become available in February, analysts told National Public Radio.

The obvious reason for oil and gas production rising in this country is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that has released previously unrecoverable oil in vast quantities — from Pennsylvania, where the first oil well was drilled in the 19th century, to North Dakota and other plains states, and of course in Louisiana and Texas, where the Haynesville Shale formations have been giant contributors to today’s boom in oil.

But while the shale formations are contributors to this boom, there is also the offshore component, where multibillion-dollar investments in giant oil platforms have released energy from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.

Even with a 2014 collapse in oil prices, the demand for energy continues. Lower-priced oil forced producers and the oilfield services companies so vital to Louisiana’s employment base to curtail operations. The price of oil is moving up, nudging above $60 a barrel for benchmark crudes, but it will take a sustained rise to gain more employment in such oilfield service centers as Houma and Lafayette.

But that is in the short term. Long-term, the nation is going to need the energy it can produce, even with more fuel-efficient vehicles and the important savings from greater conservation.

That is why we welcome the decision of the Trump administrative to expand offshore exploration and drilling. The region of the Outer continental shelf off the eastern coast of the United States can and should be investigated for the oil and gas deposits that are believed to be there.

Ultimately, development will take many years. In the Gulf of Mexico, a century of experience and networks of pipelines and the human skills of service companies make expanded production possible at an earlier date.

The proposed five-year plan from the U.S. Department of the Interior includes the West coast, where opposition is likely to be intense. There are political difficulties in many Atlantic states, too. The proposal to drill off California could be negotiated away later.

Louisiana leaders reacted to President Trump's action with enthusiasm: “Eliminating barriers to domestic energy production as envisioned in this plan is a step in the right direction,” said U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge. His thumbs-up was echoed by both of Louisiana's U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy.

We also welcome Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s assurance that “responsibly developing our energy resources on the Outer continental shelf in a safe and well-regulated way” is the goal of the new plan. Safety as well as productivity are critical and nowhere more important than off America’s coasts.