EDITORIAL: Drilling to prosperity

Developing abundant oil and gas resources would revive the economy

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Ordinary Americans are searching desperately for a way up and out of the crater of high unemployment and stagnant growth, and the Obama administration’s only strategy is to borrow and borrow until the economy rises to life. The resurrection strategy hasn’t worked; the way out lies right under our feet.

A study released Tuesday by the Sutherland Institute Center for Self-Government in the West cries out that the development of abundant oil and gas on federal lands would set off a bonanza. All the government need do is step to the side, and the Rocky Mountain states would add between $9.6 billion and $26.5 billion to local economies and create up to 208,000 jobs.

In his successful re-election campaign, President Obama insisted over and over that his administration had not cut off access to public lands for energy exploration, that it’s only coincidence that the issuance of drilling permits and leases had dropped 61 percent since he moved into the White House. The president has the ability to act quickly and decisively, because in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming, the federal government owns most of the land. A presidential signature could liberate it for development.

The U.S. government holds title to 650 million acres of land in the United States, or about one out of every three acres. In the Eastern states, it’s not an issue because most land is held in private hands. Only 19 percent of the land is privately held in Nevada, for example. Oil and gas production sets off economic booms in the absence of the federal government. Crude-oil production on federal lands in the West increased almost 14 percent since 2009, and production on private lands has increased 28 percent. Natural-gas production on federal lands declined 5.4 percent and increased by 1 percent on private land.

Professor Timothy Considine at the University of Wyoming estimates that if the federal government would ease its grip on these lands, $26.5 billion would be added to the annual gross regional product. The 208,000 new jobs would be good for Westerners, and the government would get an added $5 billion in taxes. Consumers would see lower gasoline prices, which would reduce the cost of everything transported by truck, boat, train or plane.

Not so long ago Americans were at the mercy of Middle Eastern sheiks whose oil cartel, OPEC, dictated the price of energy and could deliver a stout blow to the economy on a sheik’s whim. We could put those days permanently far behind us by taking advantage of the gift that nature deposited on our continent, enough to eventually end foreign imports.

Unfortunately, Mr. Obama hasn’t helped the economy. He has resisted granting permission for the private Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from western Canada to the Gulf states, creating thousands of jobs along the way. His energy policies have made energy, particularly oil and gas, more expensive. These policies have taken a toll on families struggling to survive and waiting in vain for the promised resurrection of the economy.

Gifts like America’s petroleum reserves aren’t discovered every day. The nation can’t afford to ignore the wealth beneath the purple mountains and the fruited plains we sing so eloquently about. If only.

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