Obama Expands Offshore Drilling Far Beyond Bush


Well, we knew the announcement was coming, and sure enough, here it is: Obama has unveiled his offshore drilling plans, and to the eyes of the environmentally conscious, it ain't pretty. Most of the provisions were revealed last night in a leak to reporters. But in case you missed it, the new plan opens up vast swaths of American coastline: some on the east coast and some around Alaska for drilling--a more expansive offering to oil companies than even Bush ever authorized.

Obama's Offshore Drilling Plan

According to the LA Times, here are the biggest implications of the new drilling plan:

  • Eventually open two-thirds of the eastern Gulf's oil and gas resources for drilling.

  • Proceed with drilling off Virginia, provided the project clears environmental and military reviews.

  • Study the viability of drilling off the mid- and southern Atlantic coasts.

  • Study the viability of drilling in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas -- areas hotly defended by environmentalists -- but issue no new drilling leases in either sea before 2013.

Alaska's Bristol Bay would remain protected from drilling.

Reactions to the Offshore Drilling Announcement

Unsurprisingly, environmental groups are crying foul. Here's an excerpt from a statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, for instance:

"Today's announcement is unfortunately all too typical of what we have seen so far from President Obama - promises of change, a year of 'deliberation,' and ultimately, adoption of flawed and outdated Bush policies as his own," said Brendan Cummings, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity. "Rather than bring about the change we need, this plan will further our national addiction to oil and contribute to global warming, while at the same time directly despoiling the habitat of polar bears, endangered whales, and other imperiled wildlife."

And here's the Sierra Club's Executive Director Michael Brune:

"What we need is bold, decisive steps towards clean energy ... not more dirty, expensive offshore drilling. The oil industry already has access to drilling on millions of acres of America's public lands and water. We don't need to hand over our last protected pristine coastal areas just so oil companies can break more profit records."

Indeed--this move has many, yours truly included, scratching their heads.

So Why the Big Drilling Expansion?

Pundits and commentators are scrambling to rationalize Obama's move: some say it's a political olive branch to conservatives, some say it's intended to help persuade moderates to consider comprehensive energy reform. Bradford Plumer notes at the Vine that it may be a preemptive measure to quell public furor when gas prices rise above $3 this summer, as they're expected to do.

The move is certainly political--as noted just about everywhere, most of the oil won't be available for 10-12 years, and some of it likely never at all. And there's only 120 million barrels estimated to be found off the coast of Virginia--hardly enough to even put a dent in US dependence on foreign oil.

What Would Candidate Obama Say?

Finally, I have to note this: Guess who opposed offshore drilling just two years ago? Guess who said this about McCain's proposal to open up offshore drilling during the 2008 election campaign: "It would have long term consequences for our coastlines, but no short term benefits, because it would take at least 10 years to get any oil. Well the politics may have changed, but the facts haven't."

This guy:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/v8fkbEuCQss&hl=en_US&fs=1& expand=1]

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