Sen. John Kerry: Halt to offshore oil drilling 'not going to happen'

The Gulf oil spill may well derail energy and climate legislation this year, acknowledged Sen. John Kerry on Wednesday. But it won't halt offshore oil drilling in the Gulf, given America's reliance on that resource, he said.

Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor
Sen. John Kerry spoke with reporters at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast Wednesday morning.

Sen. John Kerry says the Gulf oil spill makes passage of his pending energy and climate change legislation more urgent, but he acknowledges that concern about the ecological disaster may be a hurdle to Senate action this year.

Speaking about offshore drilling at a Monitor-sponsored breakfast for reporters, Senator Kerry said, “The fact is it is urgent to move to the alternatives to that.... Our bill gives you an alternative to diesel fuel by converting trucks to natural gas. Natural gas is on land and we have the largest supply in the world. We are the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

One potential obstacle for the energy and climate bill is that it would increase offshoring drilling at a time when that activity is politically toxic. Such drilling “isn’t realistically expanded in a significant way, because the only two states that will wind up with any expanded drilling, conceivably, are Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico," Kerry said. "And that will not happen, let me emphasize, until and unless there is a full explanation of what happened in the Gulf and there is a showing that there is a capacity to prevent it from ever happening again.”

Stopping offshore drilling is not a realistic option, the senator said.

“Now we are not going to stop drilling in the Gulf tomorrow, folks. Let’s be realistic. There are 48,000 wells out there. One of them went sour. About 30 percent of our transportation fuel comes from the Gulf. You think Americans are going to suddenly stop driving to work tomorrow? Do you think people are going to stop driving the trucks to deliver the goods to the department stores? Not going to happen,” said the Massachusetts Democrat.

President Obama made a similar point Tuesday at a fundraiser in California. “The reason that folks are now having to go down a mile deep into the ocean, and then another mile drilling into the ground below that is because the easy oilfields and oil wells are gone, or they're starting to diminish. And what does that tell us? That tells us that we’ve got to have a long-term energy strategy in this country,” the president said.

Kerry, at the end of his session with reporters, acknowledged that the measure he co-authored with Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I) may not clear the Senate this year.

“This isn’t going away. We may not get enough people to get out of the election fear factor this year, but this isn’t going away. And we are going to stay on it and keep pushing because I think it is the best thing that could happen for America’s economy, for our national security, for our health, and for our stewardship of our country.”

On another topic, Senator Kerry said the current Congress is “the most productive” he had seen despite Republicans engaging in what he said was “the most obstructionist partisanship that I have seen in the entire 26 years I have been here.“


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