McNerney and Andal spar over energy policy

Gasoline doesn’t come in red or blue and with folks of all political stripes paying high prices at the pump, Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, (pictured on the right) and his GOP challenger Dean Andal of Stockton (pictured on far right) are both talking this week about how to ease the pain.

McNerney repeated this week his call for President George Bush to open up the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve and dump more oil on the market in an effort to drop prices.

The reserve was created after the gas crisis of the 1970s and is intended to help the U.S. survive a major interruption in the supply of oil. It holds roughly 700 million barrels of oil.

“President Bush is sitting on over 700 million barrels of oil, purchased with tax dollars, in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” McNerney said. “Releasing oil from the reserve will help bring down the cost of gasoline and aid families who are struggling with the cost of filling up their tanks.”

Andal also called on the president to release some of the reserves and immediately embark on an increase in domestic drilling and exploration. Bush recently lifted a moratorium on offshore oil drilling although it was a symbolic gesture as Congress has maintained laws barring the practice.

Andal does not, however, support drilling off the California coastline where it is highly unpopular but said the nation should focus on areas where public support is attainable.

McNerney opposes any expansion of domestic drilling, arguing that oil companies already hold leases on 68 million acres that contain 81 percent of untapped U.S. oil supplies in the ground.

Unfortunately for the campaigns of McNerney and Andal and everyone who buys gasoline, neither of these options, more drilling or opening the spigot at the reserve, will lower prices at the pump, says UC Berkeley Energy Institute Director Severin Borenstein.

Oil prices are determined on the global market, and the Petroleum Reserve holds about a relative pittance, or about eight days worth of the world’s oil consumption.

“You might drive prices down a bit, probably less than $10 a barrel, but you would begin to deplete the supply rather rapidly,” Borenstein said. “The reserve wasn’t designed to control high prices.”

Expanded domestic drilling won’t add a single drop of oil to the supply for at five to 10 five years and probably far longer if expected lawsuits hold up projects, Borenstein said.

“Everyone wants to appear to be doing something,” Borenstein said.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen