Not Off My Shore

Few sights raise environmental hackles more than offshore oil drilling rigs, spoiling the view and threatening beaches with spills. Yet many of the untapped energy reserves in the United States lie just off the coast.

If the country is serious about cutting back reliance on foreign oil, some of those reserves may have to be tapped. The Bush administration, following up on its supply-oriented energy plan, would like all drilling options to be on the table.

But the political and legal hurdles are high. That became evident over the past week as the House of Representatives voted to block administration-backed oil and gas probes off Florida's coast. Seventy Republicans swelled the antidrilling majority - some of whom wanted to garner future allies in case the drilling rigs ever started moving closer to home, such as the Great Lakes. The president's brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, strongly opposed the exploration plans.

Also last week, a federal judge in California ruled that energy companies that hold offshore leases could not go ahead with exploration - despite a go-ahead they received from the Clinton administration. The judge said California's coastal protection laws take precedence over the oil leases, which were granted decades ago.

President Bush himself has to be in something of a quandary over how to proceed. He knows that the perception of favoring coastal drilling could cost him and his party votes in California and Florida.

During the campaign he assured Floridians that he understood the sanctity of their coastline. More recently, he has assured New England lawmakers he wouldn't withdraw a ban on oil exploration off their coasts.

So can the country's quest for more domestic energy supplies find any offshore options?

Not without investing a lot of political capital in showing that the oil gained will justify possible environmental losses. An easier case can be made for beefed-up energy conservation and higher mileage vehicles.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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