In April 2009, the new Obama administration was looking at the expiration date for a moratorium on oil and gas exploration off the East Coast. Then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar talked optimistically of developing wind energy out there – and allowed that the administration was very interested in those hydrocarbons too, after winning an election amid high gas prices and an economic meltdown.
In his last year in office, Obama has shut the door on Atlantic drilling, with the announcement Tuesday that mid-Atlantic lease areas are off the table for the Department of Interior’s 2017-2022 planning for the continental shelf.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says opposition from coastal communities and the tourism and fishing industries played a role, along with Navy misgivings about sharing its sea and air space.
Today’s oil prices, Jewell said, are “not a material factor” in the decision.
But are they a political factor?
Back in the presidential election year 2008, the cry among Republican politicians, and not a few Democrats from oil states, was “drill baby drill.” Remember those $4 gal. retail gasoline prices? Today, they are half that in the mid-Atlantic population centers:
and on the West Coast:
At a time when oil companies would be glad just to see their prices on existing production get past $40 bbl. again, the loss of a potential Atlantic future was seen by many in the industry as one more insult from a hostile administration.
“The decision appeases extremists who seek to stop oil and natural gas production which would increase the cost of energy for American consumers and close the door for years to creating new jobs, new investments and boosting energy security,” said Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.
But with retail gas prices $2 gal. or less in most states, it’s unlikely the Atlantic leasing decision will get much traction in this fall’s final presidential contest. Of course, when those prices rise again, a future administration and Congress could start the debate all over again.