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Drill, Comrade, Drill?

Oil_pump_640AP.jpg

AP

If we won't drill into the vast energy reserves just off our shores, others will.

A year after public anger over $4 per gallon gas led President Bush and Congress to repeal the oil-drilling restrictions in 85 percent of America's waters, the Obama administration has shut the door on any such new domestic production. The Department of the Interior, which handles offshore leasing, hasn't issued a single lease allowing exploration and drilling in these newly opened areas, and is in no hurry to do so any time soon.

But communist Cuba isn't hesitating on offshore drilling. Thanks to a 1977 treaty, the U.S. and Cuba split control of the waters between them right down the middle. And Cuba is working with energy companies from Russia and other countries to explore for oil and natural gas.

Since the Florida Keys and the closest point in Cuba are only 90 miles apart, some of these potentially energy-rich waters belong to America, but no exploration or drilling is allowed to happen on the U.S. side. It may even turn out that some of the oil and natural gas Cuba produces could have been extracted from American-controlled waters, like two straws on either side of a milkshake.

This myopia extends to the north as well. Canada is in negotiations with Chinese companies over projects to produce oil from Alberta's vast deposits of oil-containing sands. Yet federal laws are making it harder for that same oil to be used in the U.S., based on global warming fears. 

Why? Because each barrel from oil sands supposedly contributes more to global warming than a barrel of conventional oil. And the Waxman-Markey global warming bill, which recently passed the House and awaits consideration in the Senate, could really shut the door on these Canadian oil imports.

Thus, we have the Chinese and Canadians to the north, the Cubans and Russians to the south, and a big no-energy zone in between.

The good news is that Washington does support new offshore drilling -- for other countries. While maintaining domestic restrictions, the U.S. is actually providing loan guarantees to help the Brazilian government pursue offshore projects there. At the least the federal government supports oil drilling somewhere.

In most respects, it would be a good thing if these energy ventures moved forward and led to increased oil production. Any additional oil, regardless of who produces and uses it, increases the global supply and thus lowers prices for everyone.

While we have legitimate national security and environmental concerns over a Cuban/Russian venture (it's unlikely they would employ the state-of-the-art technologies American companies use to minimize the risk of oil spills), this offshore project could have a silver lining: Regardless of how you feel about these two unsavory regimes, the fact that they are exercising more common sense on drilling than America -- and doing so in our own backyard -- just might shame us into rethinking our own anti-energy policy.

Ben Lieberman is a senior policy analyst in the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.