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Newly discovered domestic oil, which is exempt from price controls, now commands $5.50 or $6 per bbl., about 60% higher than the going rate earlier this year. That high price makes it worthwhile for oilmen to squeeze more oil out of deep or inaccessible wells that previously did not pay. Recently, there has been a rush of exploratory drilling in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.
Untapped Deposits. The Government is also tripling the amount of leasing for offshore drilling along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Geologists reckon that large untapped deposits lie off the coasts of Long Island, northern Florida and elsewhere. Leasing has been slowed by fierce opposition from residents, who fear that their shore fronts will be ruined by big black derricks on the blue horizon, by the clutter of docking facilities and possible oil spills. Even if all opposition vanished, it would take three to five years to find and drill new wells offshore. A surer way to expand domestic sources would be for Congress to finally approve the Alaska pipeline bill, enabling the nation to tap the rich North Slope fields, which are believed to have at least 50 billion bbl. of recoverable oil. If the pipeline were in operation today, it could be supplying 11% of the nation's needs. As matters stand, it will take five years to build.
Oil-bearing shale has huge potential for the long term. The Green River formation, which runs through Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, contains an estimated 600 billion bbl. of low-polluting shale oil, enough to fill the country's needs at current consumption levels for almost 100 years. About 72% of the deposits are on federally owned lands, and the Government will probably soon lease some of them for commercial plants, where oil can be extracted by crushing and heating the brown shale. It could take six years to get such plants into operation, and refined shale oil can probably be produced in large quantity at $5 per bbl.
Government regulation of natural-gas prices has held down exploration, and supplies are badly depleted. A bill to deregulate prices is before Congress, but it is having tough going. Reason: it would hit consumers with higher prices, and congressional opponents argue that it would bring a windfall to producers and pipeline companies. Still, the Federal Power Commission will have to permit higher prices while preserving some regulation as a lever.
The U.S. has massive deposits of coal; but because of strong opposition to strip mining and a shortage of miners, getting coal in needed quantities may take a long time. In addition, most coal pollutes, though it could be cleaned up by using "stack gas cleaning" methods. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to use Government muscle—including injunctions—to make high-polluting companies apply the technology.