The Times reported (July 17) an agreement that would have the effect of blocking exploration for oil and natural gas on much of the submerged federal lands off the California coast.
The agreement, a tentative pact between some members of the California congressional delegation and Interior Secretary Donald Hodel, is shortsighted, inconsistent, unnecessary and damaging to the nation's economic and energy future. It would make available for leasing only 150 of the 6,460 tracts now under a congressional moratorium. The remaining tracts would remain closed to leasing until at least the year 2000.
This would be an extremely bad deal for the entire country. There may be a worldwide "glut" of petroleum, but not in the United States. We are currently able to produce only about two-thirds of the petroleum to meet our needs for gasoline, heating oil, and other products. As a result, the United States last year spent about $1 billion each week to bring in oil and petroleum products from other countries.
The proposed agreement says the California off-limit tracts could be opened to exploration only "subject to a national energy emergency condition." We are deluding ourselves if we think that would help. An emergency could occur overnight, as it did twice in the 1970s. But it takes anywhere from eight to 15 years to develop an offshore oil field.
As we said, it's a bad deal for the nation--and for Californians, who consume about one-tenth of this country's gasoline. Is it possible that Secretary Hodel and some members of the California congressional delegation have forgotten the long gasoline lines of the last decade?
Let's not make shortsighted decisions that might contribute to those lines returning.
Sawyer is vice president of the American Petroleum Institute..