Big Oil executives have been called to testify on Capitol Hill several times during this four-year run-up in energy prices, but there was a marked change in rhetoric for this week's appearance.
There was this from Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron:
"We've chosen by our policy to be dependent on oil from overseas. That's our choice. We chose not to develop our own resources in this country. That was our choice."
And this, from John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil:
"U.S. oil and gas production has fallen steadily for the last 35 years. Why? Because government policies place domestic oil and gas resources off limits. The U.S. government restricts supply to U.S. consumers."
New message: We're dependent on foreign oil because we don't develop the oil on the outer continental shelf or in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.
Old message: It's a hard truth that as long as we're dependent on oil, the U.S. will always be dependent on other parts of the globe—not by choice—but because they have more oil than we do.
Here are the relevant figures, the most recent estimates from Oil and Gas Journal, as compiled by the Energy Information Administration.
Proved reserves, in billion barrels:
|Saudi Arabia||266.8||20 percent of the world total|
|United Arab Emirates||97.8||7.3 percent|
|United States||21.0||1.6 percent|
The oil executives are now implying that the U.S. reserves could be much greater, and our foreign dependence on oil could be much less, if Congress would only allow them to drill off both the East and West coasts of the United States and in ANWR.
But let's take the oil industry's own analysis, released last July, in the National Petroleum Council's report "Facing Hard Truths About Energy." Yes, the NPC urged that the government expand access to areas that are now viewed as protected, and as a result, the group estimated, "Material increases to current reserves within five to 10 years from currently inaccessible areas could approach 40 billion barrels of oil." That would put us right around Russia (as currently estimated anyway), with still less than 5 percent of the world's oil.
Of course, for a lot of folks, it's more comforting to believe that we have a Saudi Arabia lurking beneath the tundra that we just haven't taken advantage of, than to think that we truly are in an energy mess.