By Jack Gerard
For the first time in years, gasoline prices aren't a significant election year concern.
This is a major turnaround from 2012, when the average price of a gallon of gas in the United States was a record-setting $3.60, and 2008, which saw the highest-ever one-day average price of $4.11. Now, the United States leads the world in oil and natural gas production, and prices average $2.25 per gallon.
Average U.S. disposable household income was $1,337 higher in 2015 given lower home-energy costs and other savings brought about by shale-energy development, and America's refiners produce billions of gallons of fuel that is cleaner and more efficient than ever. We have the American energy revolution to thank.
Increased production of U.S. oil and natural gas has added stability to world markets, exerting downward pressure on prices and reducing the influence of less-stable producing regions.
Heating and electricity costs are also down, providing breathing room in family budgets and giving a competitive edge to U.S. businesses, whose manufacturing costs are now 10 to 20 percent lower than those of many international competitors.
America's status as a world energy superpower can either grow or wither based on specific policy choices.
Seventy-seven percent of voters support producing more oil and natural gas. Yet when it comes to offshore energy, production is occurring in just a fraction of offshore territory - not because that's the only place we have oil and gas but because government policy keeps 87 percent of federally controlled offshore acreage off limits to exploration.
Opening areas in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Eastern Gulf of Mexico could lead to production of more than 3.5 million barrels of oil equivalent per day.
In the Arctic, Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are estimated to contain more technically recoverable oil and natural gas than the Atlantic and Pacific coasts combined. That makes the leasing plan for 2017-2022, due from the Obama administration by the end of the year, critical.
The administration already backtracked on adding Atlantic access to the plan, despite strong voter support in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Making the same mistake in the Arctic would be short-sighted. Russia and China are active in the region, and military experts warn that removing the Arctic from the leasing plan would "signal retreat, needlessly reducing U.S. flexibility for promoting our national interests and our ability to ensure international cooperation."
Infrastructure to transport energy to homes and businesses is another necessity to keep oil and natural gas reliable and affordable.
Our pipeline system delivers energy at a 99.99 percent safety rate, but it was largely designed to move imported energy from the coasts to points inland. Updating infrastructure to keep pace with new production presents a shovel-ready jobs bonanza that does not rely on taxpayer dollars.
Keep-it-in-the-ground activists who work to block needed pipeline construction, including projects that have passed environmental assessments, stand in the way of thousands of middle-class jobs. They also perpetuate a false and unrealistic choice between renewables and fossil fuels.
According to the federal Energy Information Administration, oil and natural gas will supply 60 percent of U.S. energy needs by 2040, even under optimistic scenarios for renewable energy growth.
Energy production and climate progress are not mutually exclusive. The United States leads the world in both production of oil and natural gas and in reduction of carbon emissions, which clean-burning natural gas has driven to 20-year lows.
Whichever party controls the White House and Congress after the election does not have to choose among energy sources. The primary choice is whether to advance 21st-century American energy leadership or retreat to 20th-century energy dependence.
Jack Gerard is president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute (www.api.org). He wrote this for the Tribune News Service.