The Obama administration has decided that the risk of offshore oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the South and Mid-Atlantic Coast is not worth taking, for seven more years at least. It announced today that given the recent BP oil spill, it is changing course and not going to allow expansion of offshore oil drilling in these areas.
The Obama administration had announced in March, less than a month before the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, that it would open these areas up to offshore drilling in an effort to compromise with some members of Congress and get them to pass comprehensive climate and clean energy jobs legislation.
Of course, with the Senate not moving forward on this legislation and the disastrous BP oil spill occurring, it only makes sense that this plan should change.
Drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and off the Atlantic coast has been banned for years due to Congressional opposition to it, and simple logic, since the financial investment, environmental costs and risks associated with it cannot be equated to the benefits.
The BP oil spill made it clear to us all, again, one reason why offshore drilling is no simple matter.
“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,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says.
“Based on lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Department has raised the bar in the drilling and production stages for equipment, safety, environmental safeguards, and oversight,” the Department of Interior press release states.
This continued ban is welcomed by both leading environmental organizations and politicians from the region (my home region).
“This decision is a wise and sensible step to protect Florida, the Atlantic coast and the Pacific coast from an inevitable disaster from expanded drilling,” Andrew Sharpless, chief executive office of Oceana, says. “It’s great to see the government acting in a strong, clear and far-sighted way to protect the oceans – and the people who work and depend on them.”
“It’s good the president is listening to the people of Florida,” Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., says.
“I have consistently opposed offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico because Florida’s unique environment must be protected, and our economy relies heavily on tourism,” Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-13th district (FL), says. “We learned this painful lesson from the tragic BP oil spill, whose effects are still being felt in southwest Florida even though no oil ever washed up on our shores.”
Offshore Oil Drilling Will Begin in Western and Central Gulf of Mexico
While bans in these areas will be extended, the administration is opening up lease sales in other areas of the Gulf. Lease sales under the 2007-2012 program will begin again in about 12 months in the Western and Central Gulf of Mexico, following extensive environmental analysis by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE). These areas will be re-evaluated for future leases under a 2012-2017 program soon as well, starting with public meetings and environmental analyses on the matter.
I have to say, I think the Obama administration should have banned offshore oil drilling in these areas, too, but it is not surprising it decided to move forward with drilling here (although, much more cautiously).
Offshore Drilling in Alaska
Offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean (in particular, off the coast of Alaska) will also move forward, but with careful and involved environmental review, including “scientific and environmental studies, public meetings, and additional analysis of oil spill response capabilities in the Arctic.”
BOEMRE will start holding public meetings soon in the Beaufort, Chukchi, and Cook Inlet planning areas in Alaska to help determine if it will provide Alaska lease sales under the 2012-2017 program.
The administration will also use “an ongoing United States Geological Survey (USGS) assessment of resources, risks, and environmental sensitivities in Arctic areas, and input from other federal agencies, including the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)” to determine if it should offer lease sales in that region under that future program.
Additionally, BOEMRE, the NOAA, and the EPA will review an application to drill (APD) in the Arctic from Shell which is currently pending. Shell is proposing “to drill one exploratory well in the Beaufort Sea in the summer of 2011.”
Of course, drilling in the Arctic is a major concern to many of us and the decision to leave this as an open option is a definite disappointment. As Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says:
“[The administration] did not go far enough…. Leaving the door open to exploratory drilling, and, potentially, additional lease sales starting in 2012, in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas puts precious Arctic waters and habitats at risk.”
I would fully agree.
Photo Credit: vsz via flickr (CC license)