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Ask AP: Drilling for oil, the role of honeybees
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    It’s one of the central issues in the debate over U.S. energy policy — and, recently, in the presidential campaign: where oil companies should be allowed to drill.
    But as oil producers seek the right to expand their operations to huge new swaths of Alaska and areas off the nation’s coasts, are they sitting on millions of untapped acres that they’re not bothering to explore for oil?
    That’s one of three questions in this edition of ‘‘Ask AP,’’ a weekly Q&A column where AP journalists respond to readers’ questions about the news.
    If you have your own news-related question that you’d like to see answered by an AP reporter or editor, send it to newsquestions(at)ap.org, with ‘‘Ask AP’’ in the subject line. And please include your full name and hometown so they can be published with your question.
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    There are occasional news stories about the mysterious reduction in the honeybee population. The articles always warn of dire consequences to fruit and vegetable production if the honeybees were not to survive. What are the predicted consequences? Will there be no more apples, oranges, grapes, etc.? Or just a reduced output?
    Gary Wagner
    Morton, Ill.
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    A mysterious die-off of U.S. honeybees killed off between 30 and 90 percent of some beekeepers’ hives in the winter of 2006. Scientists are still trying to figure out what caused this to happen.
    The high fatality rate is bad news for U.S. farmers who grow fruit and nuts and depend on bees to pollinate their flowering crops. Modern honeybee keepers travel from state to state with their portable hives, releasing bees to pollinate vast orchards at each stop.
    Luckily, the problem has not yet been significant enough to interrupt U.S. food production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA says honeybee populations remained sufficient throughout 2007 and into this year.
    But if the problem persists, it could add to food costs by raising the rates on honeybee rentals.
    The USDA estimates honeybees contribute about $15 billion in value to the production of about 130 crops.
    Christopher Leonard
    AP Business Writer
    St. Louis
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    I keep hearing from politicians, mostly Democrats, about how oil companies are sitting on 68 million acres of federally approved and leased lands and they’re not doing much drilling on these lands, while at the same time asking the government for more offshore drilling and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
    Is this really true? Why would anyone want to spend the extra money to go out hundreds of miles offshore and under thousands feet of water if they could get as much oil underground on land?
    Kevin Nguyen
    Houston
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    The 68 million acres cited by many congressional Democrats is part of nearly 2 billion acres overseen by federal agencies that have potential for oil and gas exploration. The bulk of the 2 billion acres is strictly off-limits to drilling.
    The 68 million acres — both onshore and off — are under lease to oil companies, and some members of Congress claim they have potential reserves to nearly double U.S. oil production and increase natural gas output by 75 percent.
    So why the lack of activity? That depends on your definition of ‘‘activity.’’
    Even after it has a lease, an oil company can spend several years securing the permits and other approvals it needs to begin exploration and production. While that takes place, tens of thousands of acres can sit idle.
    Leases also can get tied up in court, often over environmental concerns. Again, while court proceedings take place, leases sit idle.
    An oil company also can determine that developing a particular tract doesn’t make economic sense. Those acres, even though they’re under lease to a particular company, would be listed on the government’s books as ‘‘non-producing.’’
    John Porretto
    AP Business Writer
    Houston
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    Why aren’t the candidates and commentators pushing the idea of a nationwide 55 mph speed limit? It would save gas, and perhaps lives! Who knows ... it might even get people to ‘‘slow down and smell the flowers’’!!!
    Jeri Johnson
    Pawleys Island, S.C.
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    Neither John McCain nor Barack Obama has suggested returning to the national 55 mph speed limit that was imposed in 1974 in response to an oil shortage, and repealed in 1995. The simple fact is that most people didn’t like it then, and it hasn’t shown any sign of political appeal today.
    Sen. John Warner, R-Va., recently suggested that Congress look at the idea again, saying it would save both gasoline and lives. He hasn’t had much response.
    John Townsend, a spokesman for AAA, said motorists are slowing down to conserve fuel because of high gas prices, but they don’t want to be saddled by a 55 mph limit everywhere — especially on long, rural interstate highways.
    ‘‘There’s no clamor for it,’’ Townsend said. ‘‘Drivers remember what it was like.’’
    H. Josef Hebert
    AP Energy Writer
    Washington
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    Have questions of your own? Send them to newsquestions(at)ap.org.

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