The latest employment report isn't good. The economy only added 117,00 jobs in July and the unemployment rate still hovers above 9 percent. The ranks of the underemployed - those who have taken transition jobs - are also swollen. All points to one hard truth: the economy is badly underperforming.
Meanwhile, gasoline prices, while falling, remain high - continuing to burden cash-strapped households.
President Obama has been on the road promoting new efforts to improve economic growth. But instead of his consumer-unfriendly "green" energy, which destroys jobs on net, there is a better approach. One that both improves the job situation and relieves the upward pressure on gasoline prices. That is an expansion of U.S. oil and natural gas exploration and production.
Since the BP spill last year, the federal government has all but halted exploration activity, especially in and around the Gulf of Mexico. The Interior Department has dramatically cut down on permits for new wells, granting just 15 since ending its moratorium last October. To put this in perspective, 171 permits were approved in 2009.
ExxonMobil received one of those rare permits. And in early June, the company became the first to find oil and natural gas in the region in almost a year. The area of these deepwater discoveries holds as much as 15 billion barrels of oil, 700 million of which the company estimates are economically extractable. The world is not running out of oil or gas; it is unlocking them thanks to human ingenuity.
In addition to developing domestic energy to relieve pressure on pump prices, discoveries like ExxonMobil's are also a major employment boon. Each new oil rig translates to between 800 and 1,400 new jobs, everything from additional manpower on the rigs themselves to jobs at refineries and transportation centers to process and move the oil.
It's not just the Gulf region that's rich in energy resources. Crude oil production could see a one million barrel a day increase by 2020 alone by tapping reserves in the currently off-limits Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. Other areas, such as the Marcellus shale in New York State and the oil shale in the Rocky Mountains, are also prime possibilities for win-win employment gains and energy supplies.
Then there's the expansion and extension of the Keystone XL pipeline, a $7 billion project now stalled by politics at the State Department. If federally permitted, the pipeline, which currently stretches from Hardisty, Alberta to Cushing, OK, and would be extended to Port Arthur, TX, could move an extra 830,000 barrels of oil every day. That's the equivalent of more than half the country's current imports from the Persian Gulf.
The Keystone XL pipeline would also create jobs. The Canadian Energy Research Institute estimates that in the project's first four years of construction and operation, tens of thousands of U.S. jobs will be directly created.
There are numerous new and lucrative domestic energy production opportunities we could be taking advantage of right now. And yet President Obama surreptitiously wants to meet his goal to reduce oil imports largely through yesteryear's oil and natural gas leases, the vast majority of which have peaked or are currently inactive.
Already, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry supports 9.2 million jobs and contributes more than $1 trillion annually to the nation's economy. A lot more can be added with the government simply liberating U.S. resources for producers and consumers.
What is unacceptable is settling for the status quo. With the safety lessons learned from last year's oil spill and the momentum from ExxonMobil's recent discoveries, it's time to take a serious look at expanding domestic oil and natural gas exploration.
Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the CEO & founder of the Institute for Energy Research. His seventh book, ''Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies'' (Scrivener Publishing and John Wiley & Sons), will be released this month.''