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Obama Pressed To Scrap Drilling Plan

Energy: Administration will review offshore safety and technology issues

by Glenn Hess
May 10, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 19

Credit: Patrick Kelley/AFP/HO/U.S. Coast Guard/Newscom
Giant pollution containment chambers are being prepared to help trap oil leaking from broken wellhead pipes in the Gulf.
Credit: Patrick Kelley/AFP/HO/U.S. Coast Guard/Newscom
Giant pollution containment chambers are being prepared to help trap oil leaking from broken wellhead pipes in the Gulf.

The Obama Administration is under mounting pressure from Democrats on Capitol Hill to scrap plans to expand offshore drilling for oil and natural gas after the April 20 rig explosion and leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said last week that President Barack Obama will determine whether to stay with or abandon his call for additional drilling off various parts of the U.S. coastline once he gets the findings of a Department of the Interior investigation into the massive oil spill.

The President’s charge to Interior Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar over the course of the next 30 days is “to examine every aspect of what may have gone wrong and contributed to, or caused, the incident that we’re dealing with in the Gulf,” Gibbs said on May 3. “His charge is wide open, and I believe that what he finds will determine our next steps as it relates to offshore oil policy,” he added.

On April 30, Obama ordered Salazar to review what happened and report back on new technologies available to prevent deepwater oil rig spills. “I continue to believe that domestic oil production is an important part of our overall strategy for energy security,” Obama said during a White House press briefing. “But I’ve always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment.”

Democratic lawmakers from Florida and New Jersey are among those calling on Obama to drop his plan to expand offshore drilling. At a Capitol Hill press conference on May 4, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) proclaimed that the President’s proposal would be “dead on arrival” if introduced as legislation in Congress.

The White House needs congressional approval for expanded leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where a large no-drilling buffer off Florida’s coast is in place until mid-2022. The President has also proposed new oil and gas drilling along the East Coast, from Delaware to central Florida, beginning in 2012 (C&EN, May 3, page 30).

“Sadly, it now takes this environmental and economic disaster to remind everyone how lethal this production is, even when it’s 42 miles off the Louisiana coast,” Nelson remarked.

“This catastrophe demonstrates exactly why no new drilling should proceed in any U.S. waters, and certainly not in the Atlantic,” Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “I don’t want to gamble New Jersey’s coastline.”

But Republicans and oil-state Democrats, such as Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, say the spill should not cause policymakers to shy away from more offshore drilling. “We don’t believe in burying our head in the sand and pretending that the country does not need 20 million barrels of oil a day, or pretending that we can get this energy tomorrow from somewhere else,” Landrieu said. “We have to continue to go forward.”

The Gulf of Mexico provides 25% of U.S. oil output and 15% of U.S. natural gas production.



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