The first time President Obama announced a plan to expand off-shore oil and gas drilling, it didn’t go so well.
On March 30, 2010, Obama proposed opening vast expanses of the Atlantic coastline, the north coast of Alaska, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and natural gas drilling. Less than three weeks later, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, flooding the surrounding sea with 200 million gallons of oil and creating the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
But now that the ensuing drilling moratorium has been lifted, average gas prices are close to four dollars per gallon, and Republicans are once again hollering “drill, baby, drill,” Obama has decided that it’s time to renew his push for more oil production off American shores.
In his weekly radio address Saturday, Obama called for increased “safe and responsible” offshore drilling. He outlined plans to speed the leasing process in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, extend all leases in the Gulf of Mexico so companies can continue to implement new safety measures, and fast-track testing of previously untouched waters off the Atlantic coast and eastern Gulf of Mexico.
This new approach, to the relief of some environmentalists, stops short of a full return to the president’s March 2010 policy. For example, the plan only calls for increased testing of Atlantic waters in order to see if it would be “safe and commercially viable” to drill. “If they had gone back to March , they’d be saying ‘we’re opening all this stuff,’” said David Goldston, director of government affairs for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “We can live with this. The issue is what are the details and what happens next.
“This is basically [the White House] saying ‘we’re not anti-drilling, but we’re going to be careful,’” Goldston added. “We’re at a transitional moment. The question is what happens after that transition.”
Safety of any ongoing offshore drilling remains an area of paramount concern. Obama said that “[the Deepwater] disaster helped us put in place smarter standards of safety and responsibility,” and there some promising developments. On Saturday Obama also announced the formation of a new high-level working group to oversee the Arctic drilling projects to make sure they “meet health, safety and environmental standards,” something Goldston praised.