President Barack Obama is to permit offshore drilling, reversing a long-standing ban.
"This is not a decision that I've made lightly," the US President Obama said Wednesday announcing that his administration will allow the lease sale for oil and gas exploration 50 miles off of the Virginia coast -- the first new sales of offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic in more than two decades.
"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," President Obama said at the Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility in Washington, DC, "So today we're announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic- energy resources and the need to protect America's natural resources."
After a year-long review, the Department of Interior will also allow seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf from Delaware all the way South to the tip of Florida, to assess the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources. The president will also approve a lease sale in Alaska's Cook Inlet, while canceling other lease sales in Alaska's Bristol Bay, and Chukchi and Beaufort Seas because of environmental concerns.
"We'll protect areas that are vital to tourism, the environment and our national security," Obama promised, "And we'll be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence."
Offshore drilling typically refers to the discovery and development of oil and gas resources which lie underwater through drilling a well. Most commonly, the term is used to describe oil extraction off the coasts of continents, though the term can also apply to drilling in lakes and inland seas.
Offshore drilling, especially in the arctic or close to the shore present environmental challenges. Naturally
environmentalists are aghast. The offshore oil drilling industry may have gotten safer and cleaner over the years, but spills do happen routinely, it is pointed out. According to the U.S. Minerals Management Service, there were 172 spills of at least 50 barrels off of America's coasts from 2000-2009. Not all of those are crude oil spills, and many were the result of the severe Gulf of Mexico hurricanes of 2005. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that year resulted in spills of 741,000 gallons in the Gulf of Mexico, and on-shore facilities associated with the industry spilled 9 million gallons. Federal regulators and the oil industry have also worked over the years to improve technology used to contain spills, but the risk clearly still exists that oil drilled offshore could wind up fouling beaches and fisheries.
The irony of a Democratic President reversing a ban imposed by a Republican administration is not missed on anyone. Yes, it was George Bush Sr. who had imposed a moratorium on coastal oil exploration in 1990. The federal bans were enacted in part to protect tourism and lessen the chance of oil spills washing onto beaches.
"Is this President Obama's clean energy plan or Palin's 'drill baby drill' campaign?" fumed Greenpeace executive director Phil Radford in a statement.
"While China and Germany are winning the clean energy race, this act furthers America's addiction to oil.
"Expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change."
``Offshore drilling, especially drilling as close as four miles from Florida's Atlantic beaches, tastes bad no matter which president from whatever party is serving it,'' said Progress Florida's Mark Ferrulo. ``The president's support doesn't change the facts. Expanded drilling won't lower gas prices and it represents a dirty and dangerous activity that risks catastrophic damage to our beloved beaches.''
"It makes no sense to threaten the east coast of America with spills and other drilling disasters when we're about to unleash the real solutions to oil dependence — cleaner cars and cleaner fuels," said Anna Aurilio of the group Environment America.
It is also argued that Obama, who wants Congress to move a stalled climate change bill, has sought to reach out to Republicans by signaling he is open to allowing offshore drilling, providing coastlines are protected. Allowing offshore drilling also would create jobs and reduce U.S. long-term dependence on foreign oil.
Anyway he had never been a great enthusiastic follower of the environmental movement. In his State of the Union speech, he said he wanted the United States to build a new generation of nuclear power plans, invest in new coal technologies and make "tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development."
During the announcement the president stood in front of a F-18 fighter jet, called the "Green Hornet" which the Army and Marine Corps have been testing using a mixture of biofuels. It will be flown on Earth Day for the first time.
"If tests go as planned, it will be the first plane ever to fly faster than the speed of sound on a fuel mix that is half biomass," Obama explained, "the Pentagon isn't seeking these alternative fuels just to protect our environment. They're pursuing these home-grown energy sources to protect our national security. Our military leaders recognize the security imperative of increasing the use of alternative fuels, decreasing energy use, reducing our reliance on imported oil, making ourselves more energy efficient."
Such the limited vision of this middle of the roader that those who have been backing him to the hilt don't seem to know what to make of him. More so as the Republicans have denounced him for not going far enough.
Obama's decision "continues to defy the will of the American people," House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio)
said in a statement, pointing to the president's decision to open Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters, while leaving Pacific and many Alaskan waters largely closed to exploration.