Obama Administration Flip-Flops on Offshore Oil Drilling Expansion

By Matt Cover | December 7, 2010 | 4:01 AM EST

MoveOn.org, the liberal grassroots group, has unveiled a television ad campaign on energy that is an attack on presumptive GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and his support for offshore drilling.

(CNSNews.com) The Obama administration has reversed itself on offshore oil drilling, rescinding an expansion of the areas that are open to offshore oil and gas development.

The reversal, announced by Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar on Dec. 1, changes the administration’s previous policy of expanding drilling off the mid-Atlantic coast, which it announced shortly before the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The administration cited the Deepwater oil spill in its rationale for the change of course. Salazar said in a statement that the government needed more time to draft more regulations.

“As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill we learned a number of lessons, most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime,” Salazar said in a Dec. 1 statement.

“As that regime continues to be developed and implemented, we have revised our initial March leasing strategy to focus and expend our critical resources on areas with leases that are currently active,” said Salazar.

“As a result, the area in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico that remains under a congressional moratorium, and the Mid-  and South Atlantic planning areas are no longer under consideration for potential development through 2017,” he said.

Other areas in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico will be considered after the government conducts additional safety and environmental impact analyses, Salazar explained.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, who supported expanded offshore drilling, said the move by President Obama was “short-sighted” and would harm the economy.

“I am extremely disappointed that the Obama administration has unilaterally blocked environmentally responsible, and economically crucial, offshore energy exploration and development in Virginia, along the Atlantic Coast and throughout other broad swaths of offshore territory nationwide,” McDonnell said in a Dec. 1 statement.

“This is an irresponsible and short-sighted decision,” said McDonnell. “It demonstrates a complete lack of confidence in the entrepreneurial spirit of American industry and its ability to fix the problems experienced in the Gulf spill, and no confidence in the ability of the U.S. government to better plan for and react to offshore emergencies.”

McDonnell criticized Salazar’s decision, pointing out that the vast majority of offshore drilling is done safely and without incident, making the policy reversal seem politically motivated.

“Advances in technology continue to make offshore energy production more cost effective and safe,” said McDonnell. “Instead of using that technology to produce more energy in a responsible manner here at home.

“Further, the administration's policy of permitting thousands of oil and gas platforms in the Gulf and Alaska, but none off the Atlantic Coast, makes no sense,” he said. “Punishing an entire industry because of the actions of one company is not good policy.”

The policy change also came under fire from some industry groups, who called it a “blow to American consumers,” because it would increase dependence on foreign oil and raise fuel prices.

“This latest plan, coupled with the 'de facto' moratorium on both deep and shallow water drilling in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, keeps abundant supplies of oil and natural gas off-limits, preventing them from being safely leveraged into more American jobs and secure, affordable energy supplies for American businesses and consumers," American Trucking Associations (ATA) Vice President and Regulatory Affairs Counsel Rich Moskowitz said on Dec. 6.  

Salazar, in his announcement, said that the policy reversal was a responsible modification that allows the government to implement the new regulations it thinks it needs.

“Our revised strategy lays out a careful, responsible path for meeting our nation's energy needs while protecting our oceans and coastal communities,” he said.

However, Moskowitz said the restrictions would further set the country back as it tried to pursue energy independence.

“Restricting offshore exploration is a major setback for our nation's quest toward reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources," Moskowitz said. "Limiting access to domestic oil jeopardizes the efficiency of our supply chain, our economic health and ultimately harms American consumers.”

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