Dream Come True for Oil Companies: Obama Expected to Approve Drilling off Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Georgia
In a move likely to delight the oil and gas industry and upset environmentalists, the Obama administration plans to open up the Atlantic coast to drilling.
The decision is seen as the latest give-and-take strategy that President Barack Obama has employed to balance the interests of conservation and natural resource development. The announcement by the Department of the Interior also included a ban on drilling in some areas of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas in an effort to please environmentalists.
The opening of oil and gas leases on the Atlantic seaboard would apply from the waters off Virginia all the way down to Georgia. This region is believed to contain at least 3.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. But those numbers are based on surveys performed in the 1980s, leading industry officials to suspect the amounts may be higher.
Obama previously discussed opening up just Virginia’s waters to drilling. But that idea, which came about in 2010, preceded the Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico that produced the worst oil spill in U.S. history. The administration abandoned the Virginia plan following the accident.
The New York Times noted that “opening the Eastern Seaboard to oil companies is a prize the industry has sought for decades and is a blow to environmental groups.”
Environmentalists contend the coasts of Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia could suffer the same fate as the Gulf states following the 2010 disaster from the BP oil rig that fouled coastal waters with millions of barrels of oil. “Opening Atlantic waters to offshore drilling would take us in exactly the wrong direction,” Bob Deans, a Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman, told the Times. “It would ignore the lessons of the disastrous BP blowout, the need to protect future generations from the dangers of climate change and the promise of a clean-energy future.”
Democratic senators from East Coast states blasted the move. “All of the risk is put on the backs of our shore communities, and all of the reward goes to Big Oil,” Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey told The Hill.
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey pointed out that if there’s a blowout, it won’t be just the southern states that are affected. “Offshore oil spills don’t respect state boundaries,” he said. “A spill of the coast of North Carolina could affect Massachusetts. A spill off the coast of Georgia could affect New Jersey.”
Even the White House didn’t seem too eager to announce the decision. Although the ban on Arctic drilling was prominently displayed Tuesday on whitehouse.gov, information about Atlantic drilling was nowhere to be found on the Obama administration’s home page.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley
To Learn More:
White House to Propose Allowing Oil Drilling Off Atlantic Coast (by Coral Davenport, New York Times)
Obama Administration to Propose New Offshore Areas for Oil and Gas Drilling (by Amy Harder, Wall Street Journal)
Dems Slam Obama’s Atlantic Drilling Proposal (by Timothy Cama, The Hill)
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