Image: Gulf of Mexico drilling platform
Ho  /  AFP - Getty Images
There’s likely more oil to be found offshore both U.S. coasts, especially in deep water where it has only relatively recently become technically possible and economically viable to extract. And it could take a decade to do so.
By John W. Schoen Senior producer
msnbc.com
updated 6/22/2008 5:48:11 PM ET 2008-06-22T21:48:11

With oil prices showing no signs of easing, the White House has proposed increased oil drilling in the U.S. Increasing oil production is a great idea. Unfortunately, it won’t provide any relief at the pump for millions of Americans trying to stretch their budgets so they can top off their gas tanks.

How is increasing American production by 1 million barrels a day, which is about 1.5 percent of daily global oil consumption, going to bring about the 25 percent drop in oil prices that many proponents of increased Alaskan and offshore drilling have suggested? … Shouldn't that just be one of many plans to increase supply and decrease demand that will really bring a drop in prices?
Jon,Memphis, TN

It won’t. And, yes.

Every barrel of oil is going to be needed to meet growing global demand, and technology today allows oil producers to find and extract oil in places that until recently were not profitable or technically feasible. But there’s little evidence that there’s enough untapped oil within U.S. federal waters to make much of a difference in oil prices. Even if the oil is there, it would take a decade or longer until it can be tapped — offering little relief from the recent surge in oil prices.

Roughly 80 percent of U.S. proven reserves — and daily production — is clustered in just four states: Louisiana, Texas, Alaska and California. There’s likely more oil to be found offshore both U.S. coasts, especially in deep water where it has only relatively recently become technically possible and economically viable to extract. But it’s highly unlikely there’s enough there to make much of a difference in oil prices. Even if new discoveries were made, it would be decades before it began flowing and the price impact would be would be minimal.

The biggest known, untapped reserves are in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. (Current multinational negotiations over rights to oil under the Arctic Sea may bring additional reserves under U.S. control, but any potential production lies even further into the future.)

Even if Congress approved drilling in ANWR today, production would not begin for at least a decade, according to Energy Department estimates. The eventual impact on prices depends on exactly how much oil is under ANWR. Answering that question is an inexact science — you can’t stick a dipstick in the ground and determine how many barrels you’re dealing with.

So petroleum engineers like to talk in terms of low, mean and high estimates.  The low estimate means there’s a 95 percent probability you’ll find so many barrels, the odds for the mean estimate are 50-50 and the high estimate comes with only a 5 percent chance you’ll eventually find that number of barrels. According to current estimates, the total volume of recoverable crude in ANWR is 5.7 billion barrels for the low estimate, 10.4 billion barrels for the mean estimate and 16.0 billion barrels for the high estimate.

But even in the best case, the price impact — decades from now — would amount to about 1 percent of current market prices. If work started today, production would peak in 2027 — when increased production would have the biggest impact on prices. According to Department of Energy projections, that impact would cut the prices of light sweet crude (in 2006 dollars) by 41 cents per barrel in 2026 for the low estimate, 75 cents per barrel in 2025 for the mean oil resource case, and $1.44 per barrel in 2027 for the high estimate.

The real problem with the debate over offshore drilling is that it’s a huge distraction from real solutions within a reasonable period of time.

Focusing on producing more oil is great, but what’s been missing from U.S. energy policy — since the Vice President preemptively dismissed it as “a personal virtue” — is conservation. The quickest way to supply a new barrel of oil to meet growing world demand is to figure out how to not use that barrel.

Said another way: producers don’t control prices, consumers do. If we all cut consumption, prices will fall. It’s happened before, and there’s absolutely no reason it can’t happen again.

Unfortunately, too many consumers in the US are happier to dismiss the demand side of the equation, blame greedy speculators or entertain delusions of oil industry price manipulation. (Never mind that Big Oil only controls only about 10 percent of global production — there are plenty of “documentaries” on YouTube “proving” that a price conspiracy is alive and well.)

Unless and until the public comes to terms with the true causes of the problem, it’s going to be hard to generate political support for real, effective solutions.

We had a subprime mortgage. We quickly refinanced and got out. But we lost a lot of money with fees when we refinanced and our payment went up a lot. Is there any way to recover our losses?
Mike K., Portland Ore.

There may be, but the odds are not good.

If you can prove that the lender or mortgage broker engaged in predatory lending — which unfortunately, usually comes down to “he said, she said” — you may be able to sue them and recover the money you lost. If the evidence of predatory lending is strong enough, you may be able to negotiate a settlement with the mortgage broker or lender without going to court.

These folks know the law much better than you do, of course, which is why they were very careful to make you sign a disclosure statement saying you understood the ruinous terms of the loan.  Which raises the question: If you really did understand that this loan would end up leaving you broke, why would you sign the papers?

In addition to being hard to prove, recovering money for predatory lending probably also means paying for a lawyer. So unless there’s a lot of money involved, it may not be worth it.

If the money lost won't cover the cost of an attorney, you still may be able to get some help from your state’s attorney general’s office. Not all states are pursuing these cases, but some are. Check out the Web site and see if they have a “mortgage fraud” unit — or call the consumer hotline to find out.

If I have only had a credit card and never a car loan or mortgage and my credit score is in the mid 500's, will getting a car loan and paying it on time increase my score?
— Mitchel

Yes — as long as you can afford the loan. Anything you can do to build a regular history of on-time payment will help. The negative impact of past late payments or defaults will also diminish with time.

But it could take awhile. There’s no quick fix – despite the “credit repair” scams you see on the Internet or in your email box.

For more on how to fix your credit, check out the Web site for Fair Isaac & Company, which invented the FICO score system.

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