Obama to Remake Drilling Policies

More oil drilling is likely as new administration charts new course.

ByABC News
March 20, 2009, 5:09 PM

March 20, 2009— -- As chants of "drill, baby, drill" fade along with memories of $4-a-gallon gas, the Obama administration is taking steps to remake the nation's oil-drilling policies, with energy companies almost certain to gain new access to onshore and offshore sites.

The policy review, part of a broader effort to diversify the nation's energy supply and find new domestic sources, reflects the pressure President Obama is under from those on both sides of the drilling debate.

As the administration balances campaign promises and political realities, both environmental and industry groups are watching closely.

"It's one step forward, two steps back," Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, said of the early moves by the Obama administration.

For more on this story, watch "Focus Earth" with Bob Woodruff Saturday.

Wesley Warren, director of programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said, "They have made a commitment to really be science-based, to look at all the facts before they make a decision. It is a new way of doing business."

The early signals from Obama and his cabinet agencies speak to that new way. Shortly after taking office, the president reversed orders issued in the closing days of the Bush administration that would have dramatically expanded offshore drilling.

Still, the Interior Department went ahead this week with a long-planned auction of drilling tracts in the Gulf of Mexico.

And Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has indicated in recent days that he's looking for ways to expand offshore drilling in an environmentally conscious way. He has even said he's open to allowing limited drilling at Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge if it can be done from outside the refuge.

"Oil and natural gas are, and will remain for many years to come, a cornerstone of our nation's energy base," Salazar told the American Petroleum Institute Thursday. "This is not, as some have suggested, a war on the oil and gas industry."