White House Says No New Offshore Drilling Until Investigation is Complete

Experts say BP incident is likely to slow things down on the legislation front.

ByABC News via logo
April 29, 2010, 4:34 PM

April 30, 2010— -- As some Democratic lawmakers call on President Obama to suspend his plans to expand offshore oil drilling, the White House today said that there will be no new domestic offshore drilling until the investigation into the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is complete.

"All he has said is that he's not going to continue the moratorium on drilling but... no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here," White House senior adviser David Axelrod said on "Good Morning America" today, defending the administration's policy.

Axelrod said no new drilling in domestic areas will go forward until "there is an adequate review of what happened here and what is being proposed elsewhere."

As Gulf Coast residents brace for mounds of slick to hit their shores, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has seeped into the energy debate in Washington, D.C., and threatens to disrupt Obama's policy and the bipartisan energy legislation in the Senate.

Obama last month lifted a longtime ban on offshore drilling and oil and gas exploration, saying it was crucial to U.S. energy security. In a rare case of bipartisanship, the proposal won broad support from Republicans. But it angered environmentalists, who argued that offshore drilling won't help lower gas prices or reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil. Rather, it will adversely impact marine life and beaches.

The Senate energy and climate bill drafted jointly by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, also encouraged offshore oil drilling, a move aimed at attracting Republican support.

But now, with environmentalists and some lawmakers pointing to the Gulf of Mexico disaster and arguing that there is no truly safe offshore operation, the Obama administration and senators who drafted the bill could have a tougher time moving forward.

"The problem for the president and for the Congress in general is that they were already facing this very uphill climb because there was this really diverse disagreement about how to shape an effective energy bill or climate bill," said Amy Myers Jaffe, director of the Baker Institute Energy Forum at Rice University. "Now it all becomes much more complex."

The administration was hoping to build a broad coalition for an energy and climate bill, experts say, and this incident only complicates that matter.

"The administration, I think, has moved quite systematically to try to broaden and strengthen that coalition and this really, I think, substantially complicates what was already a very complicated job of building a broad enough coalition so there would be adequate support for climate change legislation," said Bill Galston, senior fellow at Brookings Institute and a former policy adviser to President Clinton. "This is sure going to slow things down."

The Deepwater Horizon exploration well, operated by BP Oil and owned by Transocean Ltd., exploded and started burning April 20. The U.S. Coast Guard estimates that 5,000 barrels a day are leaking from the rig. Much of the sea life in the region is in danger and the beaches are likely to be heavily polluted as slick washes up to the shore.

Democratic lawmakers already are lining up against Obama's policy to expand offshore drilling and any bill that includes such measures. On Thursday, Democratic senators spent more time debating offshore drilling than the financial reform bill.

"I'm deeply concerned that the current five-year plan recently announced by the administration would allow oil drilling less than 5 miles from Cap May, New Jersey," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. "It is a wakeup call for all of us."

Menendez and Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, also a Democrat, are calling on the president to nix it altogether.

"Big oil has perpetuated a dangerous myth that coastline drilling is a completely safe endeavor, but accidents like this are a sober reminder just how far that is from the truth," the senators said in a joint statement Thursday.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., wants to block Obama's offshore oil drilling plan while the Deep Water Horizon investigation is ongoing and called on him to ask "tough questions" of big oil companies.

"It's unclear whether any additional shut-off controls would have made a difference in this case," Nelson wrote in a letter to Obama Thursday. "But the questions about the practices of the oil industry raised in the wake of this still-unfolding incident require that you postpone indefinitely plans for expanded offshore oil drilling operations."