Oil rigGasoline prices have risen dramatically within the past number of months, and there seems no end in sight. Whose fault is it? More Americans than ever have come to the conclusion that the US government is responsible for allowing Americans to suffer high prices of gasoline, a sentiment echoed today by President Bush.

Here’s the problem. OPEC nations account for two-thirds of the world’s oil supply. For a small number of reasons including simple supply and demand and speculation, OPEC oil prices are at a record high. But America has oil of its own which remains largely untapped (an estimated 75 billion barrels). Why does it remain untapped? Because the government does not allow its use. The US government currently stands in the way of oil drilling off American shores, of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, of the extraction of oil from federal lands, and of building new oil refineries.

Today, President Bush urged Congress to lift the bans and approve drilling and extraction and refinery building before the 4th of July recess:

“I know the Democratic leaders have opposed some of these policies in the past,” Mr. Bush said. “Now that their opposition has helped drive gas prices to record levels, I ask them to reconsider their positions. If Congressional leaders leave for the Fourth of July recess without taking action, they will need to explain why $4-a-gallon gasoline is not enough incentive for them to act.”

Republican Presidential candidate John McCain also favours allowing offshore drilling, with numerous others filing in behind the two high profile leaders to offer their support including Vice President Dick Cheney.

Of course, not everyone agrees. Senator Harry Reid says:

“So all that Cheney can talk about, the Oil Man Cheney can talk about, is drilling, drilling, drilling. But there is not enough oil in America to make that the salvation to our problems.”

Nobody said it would be “the salvation to our problems.” But it would certainly improve the situation dramatically and stimulate the economy like no other feasible action, at least until alternative fuels of different sorts become available. “There’s not enough oil in America…” – there’s 75 billion barrels of it! Compared to his strategy of urging Americans to ‘conserve’ while their own natural resources, badly needed, lie dormant underground on public lands, it’s a no-brainer.

One of the other arguments against drilling in America is that any oil we gain through allowing exploration and drilling now won’t be available for years. Isn’t that all the more reason to get on with it? It doesn’t make sense to claim that drilling isn’t the whole answer or won’t work quickly enough and simultaneously to advocate not drilling at all. Moreover, it would be wrong to think that because the oil won’t be available from any new drilling for up to years at a time that it won’t affect gas prices now. Commodity markets are based upon speculation, worries, mood and perceptions as much as they rely upon the price of crude set by OPEC (and who doesn’t think OPEC would get nervous about announcements from the US about establishing greater degrees of energy dependence?).

The other main argument against drilling in America is that oil companies have had the ability to extract oil for years and haven’t. This has become the mantra of the day. Harry Reid:

“The facts are clear. Oil companies have already had ample opportunity to increase supply, but they have sat on their hands. They aren’t even using more than half of the public lands they already have leased for drilling.”

Oil companies have approximately 68 million acres of leases where they can now drill for oil. That might sound like a lot, until you realise that there are 1.76 billion acres on the outer continental shelf, and 700 million other acres of federal land. (Of course oil companies aren’t allowed to drill on that.) In the current leases, according to Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, 54 percent of the exploration sites have been dry. Oil companies will develop leases that are going to be profitable. The ones which they think won’t be profitable they won’t waste the time developing. It’s really as simple as that.

No, this is one of the few times where we need to stand with President Bush and admit that he’s absolutely right. We need to allow exploration, drilling, refining, and we need to do it all now.