Obama Administration Delays Offshore Drilling

By Susan Jones | February 11, 2009 | 8:47 AM EST

(CNSNews.com) – Once again applying the brakes to Bush administration policy, the Obama administration on Tuesday delayed a plan to eventually begin drilling for oil and gas on the Outer Continental Shelf.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar extended by 180 days the public comment period on the Bush administration’s offshore drilling plan. He also said the Obama administration will incorporate “renewable” wind, wave, and ocean current energy into its offshore energy plan.
“The Bush Administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts,” Salazar said in a news release.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has sponsored legislation to expedite U.S. oil and gas exploration, said he is “deeply disappointed” by the Obama administration’s decision to slow down the already cumbersome lease process that eventually would open new areas of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to exploration.
“The Obama administration’s decision to delay American energy production in these tough economic times could lead to higher gas prices, lost jobs, and greater strain on family budgets,” said Senator DeMint.  “
The public comment period is just one step in the leasing process that takes more than 2 years to complete, DeMint said. The decision to further delay this process is not in the best interests of the American people, he added, warning that Americans could see higher gasoline prices again very soon.
“President Obama promised the American people he would work toward energy independence and energy security, but this decision moves us in the opposite direction,” said DeMint.
The Bush administration, in its final days, proposed a new five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing. The proposal was published in the Federal Register on January 21, the day after the Obama took office.
But Salazar said the March 23 deadline for public comment “does not provide enough time for public review or for wise decisions on behalf of taxpayers.” By adding 180 days to the original 60-day public comment period, interested parties will have had a total of 8 months to comment on the proposed plan. 
“To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside the Bush administration’s midnight timetable for its OCS drilling plan and create our own timeline,” Salazar said on Tuesday.
Salazar says he wants “better information” about what resources may be available in the offshore areas.  “In the biggest area that the Bush Administration’s draft OCS plan proposes for oil and gas drilling -- the Atlantic seaboard, from Maine to Florida -- our data on available resources is very thin, and what little we have is twenty to thirty years old,” he said. “We shouldn’t make decisions to sell off taxpayer resources based on old information.” 
Salazar has directed the United States Geological Survey, the Minerals Management Service, and other departmental scientists to gather all available information about offshore resources – conventional and renewable – along with information about “potential impacts.” The report is due in 45 days. 
“I intend to issue a final rulemaking for offshore renewables in the coming months, so that potential developers know the rules of the road,” Salazar said. “This rulemaking will allow us to move from the ‘oil and gas only’ approach of the previous administration to the comprehensive energy plan that we need.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Salazar for taking a new, “comprehensive” approach to energy policy.
"From beginning to end, the Bush administration maintained a single-minded focus on oil and gas drilling above all other forms of energy,” Pelosi said.
"The new administration is stopping this headlong rush to open new offshore areas of drilling, calling for a thorough review, with much greater public participation. And Secretary Salazar is wisely initiating a review of the potential for offshore renewable energy, and moving forward with long-stalled rules to ensure that offshore renewable energy projects can proceed in an environmentally-responsible manner."
Pelosi and other Democrats insist that the United States cannot drill its way to energy independence.
Obama has called for direct investment in energy projects as part of his plan to stimulate the economy. At his Monday night press conference, Obama said that having the federal government involved in energy policy is not wasteful spending. “That's exactly what this country needs,” he said.
Many Republicans have been vocal in their support of opening the Outer Continental Shelf and remote parts of Alaska to oil and gas exploration.
DeMint said the delay ordered by Salazar on Tuesday makes it clear that “President Obama has little desire to explore new sources of American energy any time soon.” He said the new administration is appeasing “far-left special interest groups at the expense of American families and businesses.”