Obama to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling

BY News Desk  March 31, 2010 at 1:25 PM EST

President Obama on Wednesday announced a plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling to parts of the mid-Atlantic coast, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and northern Alaska. The new rules would end a longstanding moratorium on drilling along much of the East coast, from Delaware to Florida.

“In the short term, as we transition to clean energy sources [...] We have to make some tough decisions about opening new areas to offshore oil exploration” the president said in an announcement at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. “This is not a decision I made lightly,” he added.

Watch an excerpt of his remarks here:


Under the plan, new areas will be open to drilling off the Atlantic coast south of New Jersey, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico — but no closer to the Florida shoreline than 125 miles — and in parts of Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic Ocean. Alaska’s Bristol Bay will remain closed to drilling.

No new drilling will take place for several years — the Interior Department will first conduct geological and environmental impact studies in the areas, and any new leases would be put up for sale in a competitive bidding process in 2012.

The move is likely to upset some environmental groups, who have long opposed opening new areas for drilling.

But House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, says it doesn’t go far enough:
“The Obama administration continues to defy the will of the American people who strongly supported the bipartisan decision of Congress in 2008 to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling,” he said in a statement. “Not just off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, but off the Pacific Coast and Alaskan shores as well.”

President Obama sought to address both criticisms in his speech Wednesday. He told proponents of drilling that it alone cannot solve America’s energy problems:
“We have less than 2 percent of oil reserves, but we consume more than 20 percent of world’s oil. What this means is that drilling alone can’t come close to meeting our long-term energy needs,” he said.

As for environmental critics, the president told them that as the country transitions to clean energy sources: “The bottom line is this: In order to sustain economic growth [...] we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel.”

The president also said that new oil and gas exploration would employ new technologies that reduce the environmental impact of drilling.

Last year, NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels reported on some of those technologies, and the ongoing debate over drilling in California. Watch his report here.

We’ll have more on the debate over the move to expand U.S. offshore drilling on Wednesday’s NewsHour.

Video production by Quinn Bowman.