WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lifting the congressional ban on offshore drilling would likely increase U.S. oil and natural gas production above the government’s current estimates, the U.S. Interior Department said on Monday.
Based on data more than 25 years old, the Interior Department estimates that drilling on federal lands off the U.S. coasts could produce 18 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Exploration of the outer continental shelf for oil and natural gas has been hampered in the past two decades by both a congressional moratorium and a presidential executive order against drilling but if the bans were overturned the department expects better technology would probably detect more oil and gas.
“We have to have a reliable source of oil and gas, and the outer continental shelf will provide that,” said Randall Luthi, director of the department’s Minerals Management Service that oversees offshore energy development.
Luthi would not say how much more oil and gas he thinks the lands could produce, but he said that experience in areas such as the Gulf of Mexico has shown once companies begin drilling land they often find more than expected.
President George W. Bush and many Republican lawmakers have been pushing for an end to the congressional ban on offshore drilling to help ease oil prices which hit record levels above $145 a barrel last week.
Opponents of expanding the drilling area have cited safety and environmental concerns. Critics also say it would be years before any actual production would begin.
Luthi said he agrees that it would take about five to ten years to start production in some areas, but he said in other areas he believes it could take less time to begin production.
Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Marguerita Choy