Drilling for oil

President Obama announced today that the administration will open access to waters for offshore drilling in the Atlantic and eastern Gulf of Mexico. While the president should be commended for allowing oil and natural gas exploration and development in untouched water, the devil is in the details. Part of the administration’s proposal is regressive in that it cancels some lease sales that were already pending:

“But it is unlikely to win strong support from the fiercest drilling advocates in Congress and the energy industry, who have accused the administration of slow-walking conventional oil and gas production. They are expected to oppose many of the administration’s decisions — including the cancellation of planned lease sales in Alaska and potentially years-long waits before new drilling along the East Coast.

Administration officials said the blueprint would keep drilling out of Alaska’s Bristol Bay, home to sockeye salmon and endangered whales. And it was expected that Pacific waters along California, Oregon and Washington also would be off-limits. Under revised Interior plan, four pending lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska would be canceled to allow scientific studies and environmental research before any drilling decisions. A previously scheduled lease sale in Alaska’s Cook Inlet would still go forward.

Salazar had said he was readying a second blueprint for leasing from July 1, 2012 until 2017 — a decision that meant scrapping a Bush-era plan that would have OK’d leases on Pacific and Atlantic waters where no drilling has been allowed for decades (Emphasis added).”

Even opening the eastern Gulf of Mexico will require Congress’s permission. $4-a-gallon gasoline triggered the public outcry for reducing the red tape on drilling, and the recession did not weaken the public’s support. Even when gasoline prices fell to $2.20 per gallon in April of last year, 68 percent of Americans favored drilling in U.S. waters. Oil demand will go up as countries across the globe recover from the recession and the consequent upward pressure on gas prices only reemphasizes the need for increased supply.

Yes, the process of leasing and subsequent exploration and drilling takes a number of years; in fact, those opposed to drilling often argue that it takes too long for the oil to become commercially available. Of course, they’ve been saying that for decades and much of this oil could have already been on the market had we acted then instead of dragging our feet. The increased economic activity from heavily-populated developing nations like India and China indicates that the demand for oil is likely to increase well into the future. The least we can do is step aside and let companies determine whether these projects are economically feasible.

President Obama said in his announcement today that “This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly.” It should have been. Offshore drilling will create jobs and increase energy supplies without cost to the taxpayer. It will create revenues for financially strapped state governments and increase revenues for federal governments. Unfortunately, we won’t realize many of these benefits because this decision was more about getting “drilling” in the headlines than in our nation’s waters.   The same could be said for the president’s nuclear push.

Heritage Senior Policy Analyst Ben Lieberman has more on The Corner.