Obama Announces Offshore Oil Drilling Expansion

Obama Announces Offshore Oil Drilling Expansion
Obama Announces Offshore Oil Drilling Expansion

Announcing the first expansion of U.S. offshore oil and gas development in more than two decades, President Obama said on Wednesday that the administration will allow offshore drilling in regions of Alaska, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and 50 miles off Virginia's coast.

"I want to emphasize that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy," said the president in his remarks, made with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

The administration's strategy calls for developing oil and gas resources in new areas, such as the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and for increasing oil and gas exploration in frontier areas, such as parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. The administration will continue to support development of leased areas off Alaska's North Slope, while protecting Bristol Bay. The strategy will be implemented in the current 2007-2012 offshore oil and gas leasing program, as well as in the new 2012-2017 program that the administration will propose.

"There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision," including people who oppose any new areas to drilling, as well as people who want to open all areas to drilling, Obama said. "The answer is not drilling everywhere all the time, but the answer is not also for us to ignore the fact that we are going to need vital energy sources to maintain our economic growth and our security. Ultimately we need to move beyond the tired debates of the left and the right."

New Drilling on One Hand, Greenhouse Gas Limits on the Other

As part of the administration's effort to balance development of traditional energy sources with conservation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation on Thursday will sign a joint final rule, agreed to with the state of California and automakers, establishing greenhouse gas emission standards and corporate average fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2012-2016. The new standards are expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program, the president said.

In addition, Obama said the Department of Energy and the General Services Administration are doubling the federal hybrid vehicle fleet by purchasing 100 electric vehicles by the end of the year, and the president highlighted a Navy F/A-18 fighter and light-armored vehicle that the Army and the Marine Corps have been testing on a 50/50 biofuel blend. The Navy jet, the "Green Hornet," will be flown for the first time on Earth Day, April 22, and is likely to be the first plane to fly faster than the speed of sound on a biofuel blend.

The president's announcement is aimed at shoring up support from Republicans for legislation that would limit emissions of greenhouse gases. A "cap and trade" bill was passed by the House last year, and the Senate is now working on similar legislation. A spokeswoman for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), who is working on negotiating a bill with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), said in an email, "In the difficult work of putting together a 60-vote coalition to price carbon, Sen. Kerry has put aside his own long-time policy objections and been willing to explore potential energy sources off our coasts as part of a suite of alternative solutions."

Sen. Graham said in a release that Obama's proposal "is a good first step. But there is more that must be done to make this proposal meaningful." Graham called for encouraging states to allow exploration by sharing a portion of the revenue from oil and gas drilling, and opening more areas of the Eastern Gulf to exploration, as well as viable drilling sites in the Atlantic and the Pacific.

American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard called the president's announcement "a positive development," in a release. But he called for consideration of other oil-rich areas, such as the Destin Dome area of the Eastern Gulf and areas off the Pacific Coast and Alaska. He also suggested that the permitting processes needed to be handled "in an expeditious way."

"The oil and natural gas industry has a proven track record of safe oil and natural gas development," said Gerard. "And the majority of the American people recognize this by supporting greater offshore development for the benefit of their communities, their states and their nation."

Originally published