Obama Administration Announces 5-Year Offshore Oil Drilling Plan

Yesterday, the Interior Department released a proposed 5-year plan for offshore oil-and-gas leasing, saying it’s taking the "middle road" – it’s far less expansive than what the Obama administration originally had in mind before the BP oil spill.

Under the plan, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts would be off-limits to drilling, as well as areas deep in the Gulf of Mexico and near the Florida coast. It calls for 10 lease sales in areas of the Gulf that are already open for development starting next year.

DOE says the plan encourages drilling in areas of the Gulf that are already available for leasing, but that are in active. It says that over 70% of exising leases have no production, exploration or development.

And it calls for two lease sales in Arctic in both the Beaufort and Chukchi seas in 2015-2016, after further analsis of how drilling can be accomplished there without threatening the environment. 

The plan "makes more than 75 percent of undiscovered technically recoverable oil and gas resources estimated in federal offshore areas available for exploration and development," says the Interior Dept in its announcement.

"Expanding safe and responsible oil and gas production from the [Outer Continental Shelf] is a key component of our comprehensive energy strategy to grow America’s energy economy, and will help us continue to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create jobs here at home," says Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Neither Side Satisfied

The plan satisfies neither the GOP – which wants much more widespread drilling – or the environmental community – which points to the Gulf spill as evidence that there is no safe offshore drilling in deep waters.

The environmental community’s response is that ramping up offshore drilling raises the risk of disastrous spills, puts wildlife in harm’s way and deepens U.S. dependence on the fossil fuels that are driving climate change and preventing widespread use of renewable energy.

"Last year’s disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was supposed to be a wake-up call about the dangers of offshore drilling, but it looks like President Obama hit the snooze button and slept right through it," says Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We just can’t keep expanding offshore drilling and not expect to have more disastrous spills."

"Gulf of Mexico communities are still reeling from the impacts of last year’s oil spill, and now the president wants to put those same communities at risk again," he continues. "The administration’s claiming significant steps have been taken to make drilling safer, but in fact there’s been no fundamental reform that can keep the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic safe from the next spill catastrophe." 

The GOP and is pressing the deficit supercommitte to open all areas to offshore drilling and passed a bill last May to do so.

New Jersey senators expressed relief that their coast is omitted from the plan, while Alaska Senators say they’re pleased their coasts were included. 

"I am pleased that the administration recognizes that allowing oil drilling near the Jersey Shore is simply too big a risk to the health of our economy, our environment and our families," says Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).

After the Interior granted Royal Dutch Shell Oil tentative approval to drill in Arctic waters, U.S. Coast Guard officials explained again that no resources exist to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. This summer, Commandant Admiral Robert Papp told Congress the federal government has "zero" spill response capability in the Arctic."

A coalition of native and conservation groups filed suit against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement’s (BOEMRE) decision, which in granting the permit, said it "found no evidence that the proposed action would significantly affect the quality of the human environment."

The lawsuit argues Shell shouldn’t be issued an oil drilling permit in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea without having a credible cleanup plan in the event of an oil spill.

"The holes in Shell’s plan, notably the lack of a workable oil spill response plan, leave the fragile natural systems of the Arctic and the livelihoods of native communities at risk. Smarter transportation choices, not dangerous drilling plans, are what we should be pushing forward," says Dan Ritzman, Sierra Club Alaska Program Director.

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