On Tuesday, the Obama administration outlined its plan to open the offshore waters along the Atlantic Coast from Virginia down to Georgia for oil leasing. At the same time, they have also put restrictions drilling in the environmentally stressed waters of Alaska’s North Slope.
Many are calling the move politically fraught with danger, but with the president not up for re-election, criticism from his allies seems to have gone unnoticed. Fear of a major oil spill along the heavily populated Atlantic Coast are being dismissed by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who says Atlantic leases won’t be put up for auction for at least six years, and drilling wouldn’t commence for several years after that.
“This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop,” said Secretary Jewell at a news conference called to announce the proposed plan.
The full magnitude of the proposal is seen in the opening up of 10 additional areas in the Gulf of Mexico, three in the Arctic Ocean, and one in the Atlantic Ocean, stretching from the coast of Virginia to Georgia. The potential areas are supposed to have a 50-mile buffer zone to limit damage to coastal areas in the event of an oil spill, says Jewell. Also mentioned was the need for minimizing the effects of multiple-use conflicts, such as Department of Defense and NASA activities or commercial and recreational fishing, and habitat needs for marine life and wildlife.
Offshore drilling in Alaska under the proposal
Under the Obama administration’s proposal, one oil drilling lease each in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas and another in the Cook Inlet, in South-Central Alaska are being considered for approval. This is after designating 9.8 million acres in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas as off-limits to oil drilling in the future. There are to be no auctions for leasing in the eastern Gulf or Pacific Ocean.
The proposed plan has met with a great deal of concern with environmental groups. They cite the damages to the ecology of the Arctic region, and also the fact that petroleum companies are not fully prepared for drilling in the adverse conditions of the Arctic, further amplifying the danger to the environment from oil spills. But again, the Interior secretary says that the “restricted” areas of the Arctic require a “balanced and careful approach to development.”
The Huffington Post is reporting the American Petroleum Institute made a call to reporters ahead of the news conference, saying the proposed plan should have a broader region for oil exploration in the Atlantic and the Pacific, as well. “At this early stage, it would be premature to leave out of the program any area that includes significant reserves of oil and natural gas,” said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations.
“Unfortunately the federal government does not do to enough to support oil and gas development,” said Milito. “By keeping so much locked away, the U.S. government is saying no thanks to 840,00 potential new American jobs, 3.5 million barrels of oil.” Milito also complained the Obama administration was trying to “impede and obstruct” development by the use of increased regulations for both onshore and offshore drilling.
The public has until March 28, 2015 to make public comments concerning this draft proposal. The proposal in its entirety can be read at this site. The proposed rule plan will be listed in the Federal Register on Jan. 28, for those interested in making a public comment.