Obama administration officials will announce Wednesday afternoon they will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as part of the next five-year drilling plan, according to sources briefed on the plan, reversing two key policy changes President Obama announced in late March.
President Obama talks about endorsing expansion of offshore drilling. (Footage via http://www.whitehouse.gov/The Washington Post)
During that announcement–less than a month before the BP oil spill–Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said they would open up the eastern Gulf and parts of the Atlantic, including off the coast of Virginia, to offshore oil and gas exploration.
The announcement is sure to please environmentalists while angering oil and gas companies as well as some lawmakers from both parties who have pressed for continued offshore energy exploration in the wake of massive Gulf of Mexico spill.
According to multiple individuals briefed on the plan, the Obama administration will proceed with scoping for possible drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic as part of the upcoming 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf program, while keeping the other areas off limits.
The administration is likely to conduct a new environmental assessment of Shell’s plan to conduct drilling in the Arctic, the sources added.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who has consistently pushed to restrict drilling in the eastern gulf, welcomed the news. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called the senator Wednesday morning, according to Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin, but the two men did not speak yet because Nelson is chairing a hearing.
“Drilling off Florida’s Gulf coast is banned at least until 2022, under a 2006 law passed by Senator Nelson,” McLaughlin said. “The senator is pleased the White House has decided rightly to keep the area off-limits. He hopes Florida’s next governor and the Legislature similarly will commit to protecting the state’s tourism economy and unique environment.”
Activists such as Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, also praised the administration’s plan, saying, “Today, anyone who loves our beaches, who fishes in the ocean or who depends on a healthy coastal economy can thank the Obama administration for protecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the west coast of Florida from oil drilling. The BP disaster earlier this year was a tragic reminder that drilling is a dirty and dangerous business. The only way to truly keep our coasts and ocean ecosystems safe is to keep them rig free.”
But the move could spark a backlash from business interests as well from both many congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats such as Sen. Manry Landrieu, who argue that curbing offshore energy exploration could exacerbate the nation’s economic woes.
Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, said in a statement, “The Administration is sending a message to America’s oil and gas industry: take your capital, technology, and jobs somewhere else.”