Last Wednesday, Obama in a very surprising move, unveiled plans for large swaths of the ocean off the East Coast, eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska to be drilled for oil and gas for the first time. Specifically the plan allows areas from Delaware to central Floria, the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, and swath 125 miles off Florida’s coast currently under congressional moratorium, to be opened up to industry. As a first step, the Obama plan authorizes the Interior Department to start conducting seismic studies to locate potential seafloor deposits.
Obama stated, “The bottom line is this: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.” Obama addressed those who will “strongly disagree” with this decision by saying the announcement is part of a broader strategy to move from an economy run on fossil fuel and foreign oil to one that relies on domestic fuels and clean energy. “The only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long run,” he said. “To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake.”
So is the the appropriate move forward? Some believe this was Obama’s move to gain further support for a later comprehensive climate and energy bill, i.e. a political opposed to an energy move. And indeed the strange union of liberal Democrat Barbara Block of California, whose state was spared, and Exxon both heralding Obama’s policy is so strange my laptop is at risk of bursting into flames as I type this.
But what would appear to be a concession to Republicans has only angered some of them.
Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, chairman of the House Republican Conference, called the announcement a “smokescreen.” “As usual, the devil is in the details,” Pence said. “Only in Washington, D.C., can you ban more areas to oil and gas exploration than you open up, delay the date of your new leases, and claim you’re going to increase production.” House Natural Resources Committee ranking member Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said the administration “is attempting to pull the wool over our eyes.” “President Obama’s rhetoric conveys support for increasing American oil and natural gas production, while the reality is he’s proposing a plan that will close more areas to drilling than it opens, and the few areas still available won’t be open for years,” Hastings said.
As can be imagined conservation groups are also angered and not just the ones you might expect, e.g. Greenpeace. Oceana, an organization who in my opinion typically proceeds strategically, thoughtfully, and cautiously, is leading a letter campaign stating
Expanding offshore drilling increases threats to marine habitats and creatures and does nothing to curb harmful carbon emissions; in fact, it increases pollutants in our atmosphere and oceans. Including offshore drilling in climate change legislation is not only a political compromise – it is compromising the future health of our oceans. Help us reach our goal of 25,000 ocean activists to speak up against offshore drilling.
And, well frankly I can’t agree more.
First, I think the move is politically naive. The behavior of Republicans during healthcare reform is all you need to consider. This is the group that voted no to everything in healthcare reform, even as parts were borrowed from R-Mitt Romney’s state insurance plan for Massachusetts. This is the group that stated they would continue to vote no on everything the Democrats proposed. Republicans would vote no on a bill stating they were Republicans if the Democrats proposed it. Republicans have no interest in bipartisan progression. Is opening vast swaths of the oceans worth a few Republican votes that Obama doesn’t even need? What if it leads to a loss of Democratic votes.
Second, I think the move is environmentally naive. It does nothing more than continue our reliance on fossil fuels, perpetuating a cycle of behavior that will ultimately warm, acidify, and pollute our oceans. At local scales, drilling impacts will greatly threaten the life of the seafloor. And that oil won’t only being going into our big SUV’s to hold our fat American assess, it will end up on our protected marine habitats. Or maybe Chineses asses and Australian reefs
A Chinese-registered ship carrying coal that ran aground off the coast of northeast Australia was leaking oil Sunday near the Great Barrier Reef — the world’s largest coral reef system. The ship, called Shen Neng 1, was carrying about 65,000 tons of coal to China from the port of Gladstone when it ran aground at about 5:10 p.m. Saturday, according to a Queensland state government statement. The vessel was carrying about 950 tons of oil on board and was leaking into the surrounding waters early Sunday, according to the statement. Maritime Safety Queensland has responded to the scene to assess the spill and plan a clean-up. A light aircraft was expected to spray a chemical solution on the oil.
Third, I am not even sure it makes sense economically.
One reason they haven’t is that offshore drilling requires an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars just to find a productive site. Once oil is discovered, offshore rigs used to bring it to the surface cost $1 billion or more. And years would pass before those new rigs could produce their first barrel of oil. Meanwhile, under Obama’s proposal, East Coast states and parts of Alaska would expose valuable shoreline and beach property to the possibility of a disastrous oil spill. Tourism benefits coastal states a lot more than skimpy oil royalties would. Why do you think California opted out of this deal right from the start? America also would be wasting time and money that should be spent on developing alternative energy sources, such as wind, solar, cleaner alternative fuels and, yes, nuclear power. While we fiddle, China solidifies its stature as the green energy innovator of the world.
All this leaves me to believe the Republican party and Exxon have kidnapped Obama and put Sarah Palin in an Obama suit. And as James Werrell writes, “But while “drill, baby, drill” makes a cute catch-phrase, it’s still a dumb idea, no matter who proposes it.”