Offshore drilling may expand now
President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that his administration will open significant offshore areas to oil and gas exploration is welcome news.
Coastal waters that have been off limits for 20 years — including the Eastern Seaboard from Delaware to Florida — as well as new locations in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and near Alaska, may soon be available for leasing.
Obama, who made the announcement with Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar at his side, was clearly trying to walk a fine line. Apparently he succeeded.
Some environmentalists were upset that the administration would consider leasing in some of these areas, particularly some locations on the Alaskan coast. Meanwhile, some Republicans and industry officials said the leasing plan doesn’t go far enough to open new areas to exploration. But others in both camps gave Obama at least modest support for his efforts.
Equally important, Obama recognized in his public statement that alternative energy sources aren’t going to replace conventional ones quickly, and that jobs in the energy industry are important for the nation’s economy.
One concern is that Obama and Salazar are paying lip service to the need for traditional energy supplies and more offshore leasing, but will bollix up any efforts to develop the leases with red tape and environmental rules. We hope that won’t be the case.
Some green critics of the decision argued that offshore leasing won’t contribute any time soon to the nation’s energy needs because it takes so long to explore and then bring producing wells online. But that’s a disingenuous argument from a sector that has spent 20 years and more preventing these resources from being produced. If leasing and exploration begin in the next few years, the results are likely to be an important boost to our energy supples for decades to come.
This being a Washington, D.C., announcement, it’s impossible to escape the influence of Washington, D.C., politics. As such, there was considerable speculation Wednesday that Obama was pushing the offshore drilling plan in an attempt to win support from members of both parties for climate-change legislation.
We certainly don’t doubt that Obama may have political motives, as well as public-policy objectives. And, while Salazar suggested this week that the administration has abandoned the idea of cap-and-trade legislation such as that passed by the House last year, it is still reportedly supporting a direct energy tax.
No matter what happens with climate-change legislation, however, expanding our offshore drilling capability and ensuring we have greater domestic sources of traditional fuel is the right thing to do. We applaud Obama and Salazar for addressing the issue.