Couple high gas prices with a highly-charged political season and the subject of offshore drilling is sure to be a flashpoint for controversy.
President Bush's call to lift the Congressional ban on offshore drilling is already drawing vocal opposition from Democrats and environmental groups.
But Texas A&M Economics Professor Dr. John Moroney, who has studied and written extensively on the oil industry, believes the time has come to begin searching for new sources of crude.
"We use about 13.6-million barrels of imported oil everyday," said Moroney. "It's estimated the reserves in the new Outer-Continental Shelf (OCS) are around 18-billion barrels. So, yes, it would make an impact."
But he's quick to add that the impact of offshore drilling would not be immediately felt at the gas pump. "It won't make any difference whatsoever because new oil that could be found and produced on the new Outer-Continental Shelf won't take place for at least eight to 10 years."
Many who oppose offshore drilling are raising concerns about its environmental risk. But Moroney says it's comparatively small. "A National Academy of Sciences study found that in the past 15 years there has not been an oil spill from a platform that exceeded 1,000 barrels," he said. "A thousand barrels is a drop in the bucket compared with the oil spills that occur from tankers that are carrying the oil for import. So the environmental risk for major oil spills is tiny."
Moroney says all things considered, offshore drilling is a sound, long-term economic strategy. "If we don't start now, that just postpones the delays since it will be eight or 10 years before production prospectively can occur."