Drill, Baby, Drill: Obama Opens Up Offshore Drilling and Exploration

President Obama: "This is not a decision that I've made lightly."

ByABC News
March 31, 2010, 11:01 AM

March 31, 2010— -- In a move that angered environmentalists, President Obama today said he is lifting bans on offshore drilling and oil and gas exploration off the Virginia coast, and is expanding lease sales for oil and gas exploration on the Atlantic seaboard.

"This is not a decision that I've made lightly," Obama said at Andrews Air Force base today. "But the bottom line is this: Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy."

The Obama administration's move to allow the lease sale to go forward for oil and gas exploration 50 miles off the Virginia coast marks the first sale of offshore oil and gas drilling rights in the Atlantic in more than two decades.

The Department of Interior will also allow seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf from Delaware south to the tip of Florida, to assess the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources. The agency will continue lease sales in the central and western Gulf of Mexico, and will open up two-thirds of the resources in this region should Congress lift the moratorium imposed upon it. The administration may also the eastern Gulf of Mexico, 150 miles west of the Florida coast, for possible drilling as well.

At the same time, the administration canceled a lease sale in Alaska's Bristol Bay because of environmental concerns but approved one in Alaska's Cook Inlet. Lease sales in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are suspended pending further scientific review.

All in all, more than 400 million acres of ocean may be opened for offshore drilling.

What that means is that sites off Virginia and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico could produce 230 million barrels of oil and 1.41 trillion cubic feet of natural gas by 2030. The areas the government is further studying contain up to 62 billion barrels of oil and up to 289 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Obama today said opening up these sites to oil and gas exploration is critical to U.S. energy security.

"We'll be guided not by political ideology but by scientific evidence," the president said.

In 2008, the United States imported 4.7 billion barrels of oil and while potential new reserves may help the United States reduce some dependency on foreign oil, it's unlikely the need for imports will completely be eliminated.

"The amount of oil or gas involved will take a number of years to develop and therefore will not have a significant impact on price," said Guy Caruso, a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Obama, responsing to criticism from environmental groups, argued that it was necessary to pursue a comprehensive energy strategy to make the United States more energy-independent.

"I want to emphasize that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy," he said. "And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake."

This includes setting high, fuel-efficiency standards, the clean energy investments in the stimulus bill and the recent announcement of loan guarantees for new nuclear reactions.

"I would say that this comprehensive approach is a lot less 'Drill, baby, drill,' and more drill where it's responsible, promote efficiency, invest in clean energy, and create jobs of the future," White House deputy press secretary Bill Burton told reporters. "I know that doesn't fit on a T-shirt quite as well, but that's a lot more about what President Obama thinks is the right direction for this country."

Environmental groups were swift in their reply.

"We're very disappointed to see important areas like the Arctic coast and the Mid and South Atlantic stay open to oil drilling," said Michael Brune, executive director of the environmental group Sierra Club. "Drilling our coasts will doing nothing to lower gas prices or create energy independence. It will only jeopardize beaches, marine life and coastal tourist economies, all so the oil industry can make a short-term profit."

Republican leaders voiced approval -- but quickly said the administration needs to do more.

"Senate Republicans have long supported efforts to find more American energy, and use less; we believe we must do both," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a statement. "Today's announcement is a step in the right direction, but a small one that leaves enormous amounts of American energy off limits. And the proof of the administration's announcement will be in the implementation."

House Minority Leader John Boehner, D-Ohio, joined in: "Opening up areas off the Virginia coast to offshore production is a positive step, but keeping the Pacific Coast and Alaska, as well as the most promising resources off the Gulf of Mexico, under lock and key makes no sense at a time when gasoline prices are rising and Americans are asking 'Where are the jobs?'"

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose chants of "drill, baby, drill" became somewhat of a mantra during the 2008 presidential campaign, sided with Boehner.

"Rep.Boehner spot-on Obama goal=cram thru job-killing, energy-depleting, burdensome Cap & Tax scheme on heels of Obama's new'pro-drilling'msg," Palin wrote on Twitter.com today.

Industry groups hailed the president's announcement, albeit with cautious optimism.

"The announcement by President Obama and [Interior] Secretary Salazar is a positive development," American Petroleum Institute's president and chief executive Jack Gerard said in a statement. "We look forward to reviewing the details of the proposal, and we stand ready to work with them to make this a reality."

Most Americans support increased offshore drilling. A Pew poll last month found that nearly two-third of Americans, about 63 percent, favored more offshore drilling for oil and gas. At the same time, 78 percent also supported increased funding for alternative energy.