President Barack Obamaâs move to lift a moratorium on new offshore drilling leases and to designate further areas for exploration wonât produce much oil in the near future, but is already generating a good deal of hot air in Washington.
Republicans said the measure â which opens up offshore tracts along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts as well as off the North Slope of Alaska â does not go far enough to realize the full potential for domestic oil production. Environmentalists excoriated the president for compromising efforts to limit carbon emissions.
No one seemed sure that the concession to the oil industry and the Republicans would win any new votes for a comprehensive climate bill, which the administration hopes to pass this year.
The first tract that might become available is offshore Virginia, already designated for a lease sale in 2011 before the Obama administration stopped it last year. Other blocks would be available only in 2012 at the earliest, pending government studies. Actual exploration and drilling may be years away.
The president excluded the Atlantic Coast north of Delaware, much of offshore Florida, and the entire U.S. Pacific Coast. He also excluded Bristol Bay in Alaska, while opening two sectors north of Alaska that are thought to have large untapped reserves.
Sectors in the eastern Gulf of Mexico tract are believed to be the richest of the offshore fields included in the decision. The area may contain 3.5 billion barrels of oil and 17 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to some estimates. The western sector of the Gulf has already been developed with hundreds of offshore drilling platforms.
Offshore drilling was a big issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, with Republican candidates chanting âDrill, baby, drillâ at campaign rallies. As a candidate, Obama urged caution, but did not rule out expansion of offshore drilling.
Obama tried to stave off criticism in making the announcement by putting the decision in the context of his overall energy strategy.
âThere will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling,â he said in front of an audience at Andrews Air Force Base. âBut what I want to emphasize is 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 more on homegrown fuels and clean energy.â
By. Darrell Delamaide