Last Friday's NPR-Science Friday podcast features an interview with Boston University researcher and energy expert Robert Kaufman, exploring the economic realities of offshore oil drilling. President Bush recently reversed a longstanding ban on offshore drilling in an effort to increase oil supply and lower prices. For much of the US coastline, with the exception of several Gulf states, offshore drilling is off-limits.
Some interesting tidbits from the interview: Kaufman estimates that offshore drilling would only increase US oil production by 1-4% over the next decade, insufficient to make a dent in gas prices. In fact, he says opening up all protected lands for oil drilling would only be a drop in the bucket compared to our total energy needs.
Kaufman further speculates that one of the reasons that the oil lobby is pushing for access to the protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is to increase the economic "lifespan" of their expensive Trans Alaska Pipeline, which has essentially been paid for by all the oil it has already transported. So the push is not to increase oil supply, but rather to increase profit margin.
When one considers the environmental risks that come with drilling in protected Alaskan wilderness or offshore, it seems we really need to focus on conservation and renewable energy sources, not finding more oil.