Offshore drilling for oil and gas will expand to new areas under President Obama's drilling plan, announced Wednesday. But the plan also keeps some sensitive environmental areas off-limits.
Offshore oil and gas drilling will move ahead in Atlantic waters from Virginia to mid-Florida, westward in the Gulf of Mexico from125 miles off Florida's coast, and off parts of Alaska's northern coast, President Obama announced Wednesday.
However, the Pacific coast will remain off-limits to offshore drilling, as will the environmentally sensitive salmon fisheries of Bristol Bay, Alaska, and the heavily fished waters north of Delaware through New England, the president said.
Mr. Obama's announcement came as a court order required the Department of the Interior to resolve offshore oil lease questions in Alaska by today.
It also comes as supporters of a compromise plan for comprehensive climate and energy legislation in the Senate are hoping to pass legislation by late spring - before summer recess and the fall political season.
Republicans also have been waging a campaign to pressure the White House to allow offshore oil and gas development nationwide.
"Today we're announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration - but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America's natural resources," Obama said in his prepared remarks.
Some environmentalists say that the president has betrayed his renewable-energy and environmental credentials. A few oil industry groups gave the announcement tepid support. But industry backers in Congress said the move fell far short of opening the the nation's offshore waters for energy development.
The president noted that his steps were sure to displease many, but the move was a compromise plan to boost domestic energy production in the interim before renewable energy was widely available, while creating jobs and still protecting the environment.
The effect on energy independence
Advocates of American energy independence were skeptical that the plan would have a significant impact.
"This won't do anything really significant to boost US energy independence," says Gal Luft, executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington. "It doesn't address the core energy security issues we have - that is the monopoly of oil in the transport fuel sector."
The move opens for leasing and exploration eight areas that could represent as much as 80 percent of the undiscovered economically recoverable oil and gas on the US outer continental shelf, said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
"Our efforts to strategically open new areas in the eastern Gulf would represent the largest expansion of our nation's available offshore oil and gas supplies in three decades," said Mr. …