Obama administration juggles offshore energy issues

The battle over offshore oil drilling is resting on the back burner, but sooner or later the Obama administration will be forced to decide if the value of more domestic petroleum supplies outweighs the risks to the environment.

When oil prices reached astronomical levels during the heat of the presidential campaign, Obama said he could support offshore drilling under the right circumstances.

Since his election, environmental groups have been pressuring the president and Congress to restore the previous ban on offshore drilling, whereas oil companies have been pushing to get new leases in place.

The administration has not said what direction it will take, but it has allowed leases to move forward in the Gulf of Mexico, where deeper wells have been increasing available reserves.

See Jad Mouawad’s excellent summary of the current state of the issue in The New York Times.

As for the East and West coasts, the administration appears to be in no rush to decide what to do. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced in February that he would slow down the rush to develop offshore reserves to allow more time for study. See Interior press release.

The president has asked Interior’s Mineral Management Service and U.S. Geological Survey to produce a report on supplies by the end of March. Four meetings are scheduled to discuss the report and gather opinions about the future of drilling.

The meetings will be held in Atlantic City, N.J., on April 6; New Orleans on April 8; Anchorage, Alaska, on April 14; and in San Francisco on April 16.

But oil is not the only kind of energy being considered for offshore development. On Tuesday, Salazar issued a joint statement with Jon Wellinghoff, acting chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to guide development of renewable energy supplies from offshore areas.

In a press release, Salazar said: “Our renewable energy is too important for bureaucratic turf battles to slow down our progress. I am proud that we have reached an agreement with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding our respective roles in approving offshore renewable energy projects. This agreement will help sweep aside red tape so that our country can capture the great power of wave, tidal, wind and solar power off our coasts.”

In general, the Interior Department is expected to focus on wind and solar projects, while FERC manages projects that use wave and tidal energy.

The move was prompted by what a New York Times headline writer calls “surf wars,” in which competing companies claim the same stretches of ocean for energy development. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operates under a kind of first-come approach to a specific area while the Interior Department focuses on issuing leases. See story by NY Times reporter Evan Lehmann.

It appears that the recession has bought Obama a little time to deal with the energy crisis, but some people’s hopes may be a bit high if they think he can strike a perfect balance that addresses supply shortages, high prices and greenhouse gas emissions.

One thought on “Obama administration juggles offshore energy issues

  1. I don’t understand why we don’t invest more in nuclear power? After all, we here in Kitsap county understand the benefits of nuclear power more than most. Many of our sons, husbands and even daughters and wives work with nuclear power on a daily basis.

    At any given time the county has within its boundaries up to 10 or more operating reactors. The county, as well as a good part of western Washington, has plenty of cool water to provide cooling and supply other auxiliary systems.

    Lets not make the same mistakes that we did by not drilling for oil within our own country. Start building power plants now!

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