Obama backtracks on plan to open more Gulf waters to offshore drilling
In the aftermath of the Gulf oil spill, the Obama administration has decided to pull back from a plan to open Florida's Gulf coast and parts of the Atlantic seaboard to offshore drilling.
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Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the Obama administration remains committed to working with Congress to craft a "careful, responsible path for meeting the nation's energy needs," including oil and gas exploration.Skip to next paragraph
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"The change is based on the lessons that we have learned and continue to learn from the Deepwater Horizon spill," he said Wednesday. "With respect to the eastern Gulf, the president has made clear that energy policy is an area where the administration and Congress have an opportunity to work together in a bipartisan way to cut foreign oil and limit pollution."
Such policy can't be focused just on drilling, but has to be part of a comprehensive package of green energy investment, vehicle electrification, and clean energy research and development, he said.
The announcement comes two weeks after Secretary Salazar disappointed offshore drillers by giving few new details on when exploratory drilling could commence in the Gulf. Days later, he announced that the administration would ease regulatory hurdles for new wind farm proposals along the East Coast.
"This drilling plan is only part of a comprehensive offshore energy plan which the Obama administration is developing, including safer forms of energy like wind and wave," said Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts in a statement. "Instead of looking deeper and deeper for the last remaining drops of oil, we can harness the wind that whips over the waves, and the energy from the swells off our coasts. Before we are swept away by the tide of international clean energy competition, we should push the limits of clean energy innovation, not the limits of deepwater drilling.”
But the US Chamber of Commerce called the reversal a "major step backwards for energy security." Energy experts say the decision could delay for a decade the tapping of some 3 billion barrels of oil likely to be found off the coast of Florida alone.
Meanwhile, the continued delay on issuing new permits in the already-open areas of the Gulf could mean a reduction of domestic oil production by 26,000 barrels per day in 2011, according to the Department of Energy. That is about 0.4 percent of America's daily domestic output.
The US offshore industry, which employs 100,000 people mostly in the southern United States, has already begun moving equipment and labor onshore or to foreign offshore operations as a result of what they call a de facto drilling moratorium still in effect in the Gulf. Meanwhile, basic technological problems of efficient wind-farming – including how to store off-peak energy – have yet to be solved.
"This preference for offshore wind is hoping on wishes and dreams," says Mr. Bryce, the author of "Power Hungry." "This announcement shows the Obama administration is giving priority to an unreliable and expensive form of energy, while denying the development of proven energy sources that are reliable and abundant."