Obama Opens Up New Areas of Atlantic Coast to Offshore Drilling

offshore_oil_platform-thumb-250x187Think Progress reports that President Obama has proposed oil and gas drilling along the east coast:

On Tuesday, the Obama administration released a proposal to sell offshore oil and gas leases in new areas of federally owned waters, including regions along the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Georgia. The announcement is part of the Department of Interior’s latest five-year plan, which includes federal leases from 2017 to 2022.

The proposal is a draft that could be significantly altered or narrowed after upcoming months of public hearings and input, however it does not require congressional approval. The entire draft includes 14 potential lease sales in eight different areas, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico, but also three off the coast of Alaska and the portion along Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia.

The proposed opening of federal waters for drilling comes just days after the Obama administration announced plans to protect more than 12 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which would prohibit oil and gas drilling. If the White House’s proposal does get upheld by Congress, ANWR’s designation as a wilderness area would be the largest such designation since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Obama did not get to enjoy environmental groups’ praise for his preservation of Alaskan wilderness for long. A statement released by Public Citizen is an example of some of the scathing criticism:

President Obama is arbitrarily picking environmental winners and losers: On Sunday, the President designated 12 million acres of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be a “crown jewel” deserving of environmental protection, at the same time the Atlantic coast’s ecosystem is denied the same status.

President Obama’s announcement today supporting oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic coast is a repeat of his ‘All of the Above’ drilling proposal announced on March 31, 2010. Of course, the President was forced to quietly rescind that East coast drilling scheme after the April 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, as the hazards of offshore exploration were as apparent as the millions of barrels of oil floating in the Gulf of Mexico.

Additional offshore oil drilling can’t lead to energy independence, it won’t lower gasoline prices for Americans, but it will put coastal ecosystems and businesses at risk. Oil prices are far more influenced by global demand trends than they are by increased rates of domestic production.

Let’s be clear: the primary motivation for some states to support offshore drilling is the shifting of royalty revenues away from the U.S. Treasury and into the pockets of states. But state fiscal policy should not be driving a push for expanded offshore drilling when the potential harm from a mishap affects areas far larger than the state collecting the revenue.

The New York Times writes, “Opening the Eastern Seaboard to oil companies is a prize the industry has sought for decades and is a blow to environmental groups,” and it notes that this good news-bad news strategy is one that Obama has deployed before.

Purportedly, there is a “bonanza” of oil and gas waiting to be tapped: 3.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil on the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

MajesticThese estimates were made decades ago, however, using inferior technology. To get  better estimates, oil and gas companies will cause damage even before drilling begins–not  necessarily to the environment, but to dolphins and whales:

Seismic airguns use massive blasts of compressed air to map underground deposits of hydrocarbons. The blasts can be 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine, according to the advocacy group Oceana. The noise can be deadly for marine mammals, causing crippling hearing loss, disruption of feeding and beach strandings. Conservationists are particularly worried about the endangered North Atlantic right whale, which migrates off the East Coast twice a year and which numbers only about 500.

In spite of mitigation measures proposed by a federal agency, environmentalists call the seismic tests a “death sentence” for ocean mammals.

Cetology weeps.

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