EDITORIAL: Obama offshore oil plan: Drilling with caution

By Santa Cruz Sentinel, Calif.

Apr. 2–Politics is, and usually should be, an art of compromise.

The decision by President Barack Obama to allow new offshore oil and gas drilling is just such a balancing act.

The debate over drilling for years has been polarized. On one side are those who would open up vast areas of coastal waters to drilling rigs; on the other are environmentalists who oppose almost all oil exploration on America’s outer continental shelf.

First, and foremost for our readers, the plan announced this week will NOT allow drilling along the West Coast, or near Monterey Bay.

But there is a catch. The Obama plan runs only through 2017, at which time the California coast could again be threatened.

The plan essentially reimposes a longtime moratorium on drilling along the Pacific and North Atlantic coasts, while allowing oil and natural gas exploration along the South Atlantic coast, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Alaska.

The offshore door was opened again in 2008, when President George W. Bush lifted a presidential moratorium on drilling along the outer continental shelf; Congress soon followed by ending its own ban.

Obama’s plan moves past that. It’s a political decision, and one that probably won’t satisfy either the drill-almost-everywhere camp or the environmentalists. But the president wants energy independence, with a focus on alternative fuels, along with addressing climate change. To get there, he has to confront the supply and demand

issues for oil and natural gas.

The Obama plan is modest, putting many sensitive coastal areas off limits to drilling, including leases that will be canceled in Alaska. One such area, Bristol Bay, had been opened for possible drilling by Bush.

To be clear, the Obama drilling plan is part of his administration’s overall cap and tax fossil fuels’ strategy. The Interior Department, responsible for putting together this plan, estimates that 63 billion barrels of oil will be economically recoverable if the additional exploration is allowed. This might sound like a lot of oil — but put it in perspective. The U.S. uses 7 billion barrels a year. The reality is that for decades more, America will use and need a huge amount of fossil fuels. The alternative is to just import more oil from countries often hostile to the U.S.

But coupled with Obama’s recent support for limited, but expanded, nuclear energy production, the president is using compromise and concessions to gain traction for his climate and energy bills. At the same time, he needs to work for a stronger and longer moratorium on drilling off environmentally sensitive areas, including the California coast.

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