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Election 2008: John McCain on Offshore Drilling

Did McCain Reverse His Position on Offshore Drilling to Win Votes?

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Republican John McCain is in favor of reopening U.S. coastal waters to offshore oil drilling, claiming that offshore drilling will help American families by lowering gasoline and food prices.

McCain advocates offshore drilling not as a complete energy solution, but as one component of an “all of the above” strategy that would include increased conservation, alternative energy sources such as wind, solar and biofuels, and more traditional sources such as coal and nuclear energy. Yet, McCain has highlighted his support for offshore drilling to sharpen the contrast between him and Obama, and to cast himself as the candidate who cares about high gasoline prices and has a plan to lower them.

McCain Claims Offshore Drilling a Quick Fix for High Gas Prices
According to McCain, significantly lower fuel prices could be achieved in a matter of months, once oil companies received a green light to establish new offshore drilling sites, an estimate he says comes from unidentified oil company executives.

This differs sharply from information provided by the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Both organizations have said that reopening the outer continental shelf to offshore drilling would do nothing to increase U.S. oil supplies or to lower gasoline prices short-term.

The API estimates it would take at least five to 10 years to start producing oil after new offshore leases were secured, and the EIA reports that increasing offshore drilling “would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030."

McCain Changes Offshore Drilling Position Late in the Campaign
This pro-offshore drilling stance is a reversal for McCain, who had been a longtime opponent of offshore drilling until soaring fuel prices turned the idea of increasing domestic oil production into a hot political issue in the 2008 presidential election.

As late as May 2008, at a campaign stop in Greensdale, Wisconsin, McCain suggested that offshore drilling would do little to help resolve U.S. energy needs.

“With those resources, which would take years to develop, you would only postpone or temporarily relieve our dependency on fossil fuels," McCain said when asked about offshore drilling. “We are going to have to go to alternative energy, and the exploitation of existing reserves of oil, natural gas, even coal . . . But we also have to devote our efforts, in my view, to alternative energy sources, which is the ultimate answer to our long-term energy needs, and we need it sooner rather than later.”

By late June, McCain was advocating more offshore drilling, but he admitted offshore drilling would not provide any immediate relief from high prices and would offer consumers only “psychological” benefits.

“Even though it may take some years, the fact that we are exploiting those reserves would have psychological impact that I think is beneficial,” McCain said.

McCain Sees Offshore Drilling as Part of Energy Solution
In August, McCain visited an oil rig 150 miles off the coast of Louisiana for a photo op, where he reiterated his support for offshore drilling and berated Obama for failing to show enough support for lifting the federal moratorium on offshore drilling.

“Sen. Obama opposes new drilling,” McCain said. “He has said it will not ‘solve our problem’ and that ‘it's not real.’ He's wrong, and the American people know it.”

Reading from a prepared statement while standing on the offshore oil rig and addressing a group of reporters he brought along for the staged event, McCain said:

“New drilling has to be part of our energy solution. It will not solve this problem alone. Alternative energy will not solve this problem alone. Conservation will not solve this problem alone. Solving our energy crisis requires an 'all of the above' approach. It will require aggressive development of alternative energies like wind, solar, tidal, and biofuels. It also requires expanding traditional sources of energy like clean coal, nuclear power, and offshore drilling like that done on this rig.”

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