Are Offshore Oil Drilling Plans a Different Evil Than Keystone?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

President Barack Obama has made environmental policy and careful energy policy a highly vocal goal. He’s been at odds with Republicans in Congress and in energy industry states for some time now over the Keystone XL pipeline, and the Supreme Court’s ruling on his coal policy was a big step for the confirming powers of the Environmental Protect Agency (EPA). Now, he’s preparing to begin opening the U.S. outer continental shelf for oil drilling, a policy that would open the door to development along energy industry states from Chesapeake in Virginia to Georgia. Given the rhetoric and legislative force put into restarting construction on the Keystone XL pipeline, and the pressure on energy industry politicians to do so, this news will likely be welcome for many Republicans in Congress.

Despite the way he worded his announcement, Democrats and environmentalists alike are critical. The Obama Administration lead with the intention to mark off 9.8 million acres of area in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas near Alaska for preservation, while saying that the “Department of the Interior” was publishing “it’s draft five-year program for offshore oil and gas leasing.” The protected area is a positive step, but it hardly corrects for other concerns raised. Nor should it distract from them, or act as a Band-Aid for poor environmental policy. The Administration paints the barrier to drilling in the environmentally unique and sensitive waters as a “balanced approach to offshore energy development,” while still working with “the President’s all-of-the-above energy strategy” which “has supported economic growth and helped in reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”

Others have less than positive things to say about this newest oil drilling plan — especially given the highly damaging, expensive, and environmentally disastrous Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the potential future disasters being created by this step. An oil spill in the Atlantic Ocean would not occur in isolation. A spill anywhere along the Atlantic coast would cause severe environmental damage to beaches, fisheries, and marine life throughout the Eastern Seaboard, while also seriously threatening the ocean-based economies that rely on them,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) in a joint statement. “We should focus our energy policy on expanding renewable production here at home.”

“It’s just a terrible idea,” Deborah Murray of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Virginia told Bloomberg. “One single spill could ruin our coast, as we know from the BP spill in 2010. We’ve got too much to lose. We have fragile eco-systems and communities that depend on fishing and toursim and keeping the beaches clean. We could lose all of that.”

Virginia isn’t the only state with concerns about tourism and the state beaches. New Jersey has similar concerns, and potential risk for other revenue sources may realistically draw even more reaction to the plan than environmental concerns.

Yes, energy source diversification is important, reliance on other nations for energy has proven to be a pitfall time and time again for nations around the world. This latest decision, which would go into affect in terms of actual drilling some 10 years down the road, makes much of the president’s environmental efforts and rhetoric feel insincere. At the very least, it makes Obama’s priorities all too clear, and more than a little unfortunate.

The Keystone XL pipeline has been frozen in construction for some time now, blocked by Obama’s administration. Energy industry proponents in states affected, such as Louisiana, have been pushing hard to get the process started again, but Obama has refused to budge.

Even if his latest environmental policy has been disappointing for many, Obama’s blockage is indeed a different demon. Offshore drilling has a wide variety of new risks that are not designated to one small area. And his resistance to that legislation has also been a matter of administrative governmental logistics — to an extent — as well as environmental concern. Until the lawsuit in Nebraska is over, and the state Public Utilities Commission has been given its decision, or had it overturned, national legislation is to be put on hold, according to the president. “There’s a well established process that should not be undermined by legislation,” said White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest.

In 2008, Public Citizen’s Tyson Slocum told USA Today that “Today’s technology is much better at routine drilling, at avoiding the kinds of seepages that were common a generation ago.” This was prior to the 2010 oil spill in New Mexico, just as all rhetoric of this sort is always prior to the next catastrophe — because there’s always one coming.

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