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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Drill, baby, drill"?

The title of this post is a line most closely associated with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin.

Despite her repetition of this phrase over the past two years, the United States has maintained a moratorium it established nearly 30 years, which precluded offshore oil exploration. Candidate Barack Obama pledged to maintain that moratorium, especially in the summer of 2008 when presidential opponent John McCain flip-flopped his position on the issue and began opposing a moratorium he previously supported.

Well, President Obama, on March 31, 2010, announced that the U.S. would soon begin new offshore drilling for fossil fuels:
So today we’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources. Under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, we’ll employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration. We’ll protect areas that are vital to tourism, the environment, and our national security. And we’ll be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence.

That's why my administration will consider potential areas for development in the mid and south Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, while studying and protecting sensitive areas in the Arctic. That’s why we’ll continue to support development of leased areas off the North Slope of Alaska...
In summer 2008, then-candidate Obama denigrated Senator John McCain's plans for offshore drilling. From CNN:
“When I hear McCain say that he is now in favor of the same oil drilling off the coast that he was opposed to just a week ago, what he doesn't tell you is that George Bush's own energy department has said that this would have no impact on consumers until 2030," he said, "no appreciable impact for the next 22 years. Something they're not telling consumers.”
He continued:
"John McCain's proposal, George Bush's proposal, to drill offshore here in Florida and other places would not provide families any relief this year, next year, five years from now," he said with Florida coastal waters behind him. "We can't drill our way out of the problems we're facing," he said tapping the podium for emphasis.
Clearly, Obama's remarks in 2010 signal his understanding of the problem with this flip-flop. He says this will be part of a broader energy strategy, with care given to preserve the environment. Strategically, this may be aimed at obtaining congressional support for the energy policy (which is also linked to the climate policy, for obvious reasons).

In any case, regardless of a potential strategic political rationale, will people living in coastal areas and environmentalists attack this new policy? After all, the moratorium has long been popular with those constituencies. I do not think that the Sierra Club will give in on this issue just because Obama's EPA is planning to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

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