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It will take years for new offshore oil to reach a pump

President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that his administration would open the Arctic coast, eastern Gulf of Mexico and much of the Atlantic coast to drilling.

How much is down there?

The government estimates there is enough to cover a 15-year supply of oil and a 22-year supply of natural gas for the nation. The Minerals Management Service says that in the gulf, there's 36 billion and 41.5 billion barrels of undiscovered, recoverable oil and 161 trillion to 207 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered natural gas. There's another 39 billion to 63 billion barrels of oil and 168 trillion to 294 trillion cubic feet of gas in eight planning areas in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans.

Will this affect gasoline prices?

It would cut oil prices by less than 3 cents a gallon by 2030, which would have little effect on gasoline prices, according to Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

How much would states benefit from increased drilling?

Since 2007, the federal government has shared leasing revenues in the Gulf of Mexico with Louisiana, Texas, Alabama and Mississippi as part of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. Last year, those revenues amounted to $2.2 million for those states, according to the Minerals Management Service. Alaska also gets royalties from offshore oil drilling. MMS spokesman Nicholas Pardi said those states and Florida will likely receive added revenue from new offshore leases.

The eastern part of the gulf is known for hurricanes and tropical storms. Will oil drilling put the environment in those areas at risk?

Every hurricane season poses major risks for offshore drilling operations in the gulf. In 2008, hurricanes Gustav and Ike destroyed 60 drilling platforms. In 2005, hurricanes Katrina and Rita smashed 108 platforms. But engineers are getting better at building tougher platforms, and they're increasingly able to withstand many storms without major disruptions or damage, says Ken Medlock, an energy expert at Rice University.

When will drilling begin, and when will we see oil flowing to U.S. refineries?

Exploratory drilling could begin as early as this summer in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic. The Department of the Interior plans to hold sales for leases in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Virginia coast and in the Cook Inlet in Alaska by 2012. It will take years for oil companies to find the right pockets of oil and gas, build deepwater platforms and begin pumping crude to onshore refineries.

Which companies will be most interested?

BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips said they would be interested in moving into the new areas. Exxon Mobil said it is still evaluating the proposal.

It will take years for new offshore oil to reach a pump 03/31/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 11:15pm]
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