Huge offshore oil expansion in the name of clean energy?

Today, Obama finally announces his offshore oil drilling plan. As reported in the LA Times and NY Times (graph credit to NYT), he plans:

* opening up Atlantic coast drilling from the northern tip of Delaware all the way down to Florida, for the first time ever;

* opening up two-thirds of the Gulf of Mexico;

* opening up the Beaufort and Chukchi seas north of Alaska.

Just in case the above makes one wonder about those campaign promises of hope and change:

* The West Coast from Washington state downward will be left alone.

* To distinguish his plan from Bush’s, Bristol Bay in Alaska will be declared a drill-free sanctuary.

* And, in The Most Important Part of All, he’ll announce an agreement between the Pentagon and the Agriculture Department to use more biofuels in military vehicles and to purchase thousands of hybrid vehicles for the federal motor pool.

Remember when "With 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves, the U.S. cannot drill its way to energy security"? Obama doesn’t. He campaigned on a promise (8 pg pdf) to "use it or lose it", which has become a compromise:

Oil companies have access to 68 million acres of land, over 40 million offshore, which they are not drilling on. Drilling in open areas could significantly increase domestic oil and gas production. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will require oil companies to diligently develop these leases or turn them over so that another company can

develop them.

Remember when Bush wanted to drill in the environmentally sensitive Bering and Chukchi seas, a federal appellate court blocked his efforts, and the Obama administration elected not to appeal that decision?

The New York Times has an obligatory list of Good Things that Obama’s expansion is supposed to accomplish:

The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation.

Will the proposal actually reduce dependence on oil imports? The new areas are said to contain two years’ worth of recoverable oil, based on data that is 30 years old in some cases. (Recoverable oil is sketchier than proven oil.) Leases off the Virginia coast could begin as early as next year, but elsewhere "drilling would begin only after the completion of geologic studies, environmental impact statements, court challenges and public lease sales."

Will the proposal actually generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases? Again, the NYT responds: "Much of the oil and gas may not be recoverable at current prices and may be prohibitively expensive even if oil prices spike as they did in the summer of 2008."

Will this Bush-sized expansion really help with the climate bill? The NYTimes accurately notes that there’s no guarantee it will sway Senators who favor oil, and it could cause a backlash.

Note that the drilling boundary is set between Delaware and New Jersey. Last week, ten Senators warned against a big expansion of offshore oil drilling. Along with both Oregon Senators and six New-Jersey-and-northward Senators, the letter was signed by Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Ted Kaufman (D-DE). Perhaps there’s a blunt political calculus that Nelson and Kaufman will come around, or that the loss of their unimportant votes on a climate bill will be offset by gaining the prized votes of Murkowski, Landrieu, and other oil-slicked Senators. If so, that’s a bizarre calculation (proverbs about birds in the hand come to mind).

Will the climate bill even be a climate bill? Even if the offshore drilling expansion causes 38 Republican Senators to swoon with adoration (Inhofe will hold out) and trip over each other rushing to vote on the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill supposed to be unveiled by Earth Day, it’s time to face the facts. Oil drilling for minimizing carbon pollution is like f&cking for virginity, to be crass. Any bill that expands offshore drilling so much is no longer a climate bill. It’s an energy bill without any environmental integrity. A climate bill would transition the United States away from fossil fuels. This decision keeps us addicted to those same fuels.

Are there any bright spots? A few obscured by the haze of pollution. Bristol Bay will become a permanent sanctuary, and the Pacific Ocean (Washington state-downward) is spared through 2017. The LA Times story emphasizes the long term nature of all this activity; the Atlantic and Arctic areas will be studied until 2013 at the earliest. And there will still be a period of months to ignore consider public comments. After that….

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