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US Oil Industry Pushes For Expansion of Offshore Drilling

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The U.S. oil industry is seeking to pressure the Obama administration into reconsidering its decision to limit offshore drilling along U.S. coasts - a decision made following the BP oil spill disaster last year.  A new study commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute says oil demand in the U.S. will grow by 50 percent by 2035.  Without greater access to new offshore wells, the trade group says, U.S. dependence on foreign sources will grow.  But, some argue the solution to America's energy independence is less oil, not more.

Despite efforts to reduce energy consumption and improve fuel efficiency, the American Petroleum Institute says America's appetite for oil is growing.

Jack Gerard, the president of the U.S. oil industry's largest trade group, says the solution is to expand offshore drilling - which in turn will create thousands of new jobs.

"Over the next three, four, five years, we have an opportunity to be a significant economic engine to help stimulate the recovery," said Gerard. "These are well-paying, highly sought-after jobs and again, what we need is the political will to provide the opportunities."

Gerard says opening up areas now off limits to development could create as many as 500,000 jobs by 2025 and generate $150 billion in government revenue.

He's urging lawmakers to set aside political differences and allow expanded drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, off the East Coast and in parts of Alaska.  

But some insist that would be a step backwards.

Dan Weiss is director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress.

"Where we ought to putting our emphasis is reducing our demand for oil," said Weiss. "That will be faster, cleaner and cheaper than dramatically expanding offshore oil drilling."

While the industry says it supports the development of alternative sources of energy, experts say it will be difficult - if not impossible - to completely eliminate America's addiction to oil.  With demand skyrocketing in emerging economies, such as China, Gerard says delaying development of America's oil reserves now, will only send jobs elsewhere.

"The alternative to putting our own people back to work is to increase our reliance on other forms and sources of energy and we believe the best solution is to develop American energy for all Americans," he said.

Weiss is skeptical of the industry's job and revenue projections.  He says dollar for dollar, there are more efficient ways to create jobs.

"When it comes to jobs, Investing a million dollars into clean energy like efficiency, solar or wind power would create four times as many jobs as investing that same million dollars into oil production," he said.

But with a new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and crude oil prices hovering at a two-year high, analysts say there will be increased pressure on the Obama administration to expand domestic oil production.

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