President Barack Obama is looking to bolster U.S. oil drilling, announcing Saturday a preemptive strike against bolder efforts from Capitol Hill as consumer unrest deepens over the price at the pump.
The White House will move forward without congressional action on a set of ideas espoused by Republicans and oil-state Democrats to expand oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and potentially parts of the Atlantic seaboard.
That’s the good news. The bad news?
At the same time, Obama is also firing up the liberal Democratic base by urging Congress to repeal billions of dollars in oil-industry tax incentives and to raise fees against companies that do not act quickly on drilling leases they own.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings issued this statement,
“In the last week, House Republicans passed three bipartisan bills that will create 1.2 million jobs, triple American offshore oil production and generate $840 million in revenue – real action to produce real American energy. It’s ironic that while the White House and Congressional Democrats strongly criticized these efforts, President Obama is now taking tiny baby steps in our direction. The President is finally admitting what Republicans have known all along – that increasing the supply of American energy will help lower prices and create jobs. One weekend address announcing minor policy tinkering, while positive, does not erase the Administration’s long job-destroying record of locking-up America’s energy resources.”
Answering the call of Republicans and Democrats from Gulf Coast states, Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address that he would extend all Gulf leases that were affected by a temporary moratorium on drilling imposed after last year’s BP oil spill. That would give companies additional time to begin drilling.
The administration had been granting extensions case by case, but senior administration officials said the Interior Department would institute a blanket one-year extension.
New safety requirements put in place since the BP spill also have delayed drilling in Alaska, so Obama said he would extend lease terms there for a year as well. An oil lease typically runs 10 years.
Lease sales in the western and central Gulf of Mexico that were postponed last year will be held by the middle of next year, the same time period required by the House. A sale off the Virginia coast still would not happen until 2017 at the earliest. But Obama said he would speed up environmental reviews so that seismic studies to determine how much oil and gas lies off the Atlantic Coast can begin.
To further expedite drilling off the Alaskan coast, where such plans by Shell Oil Co. have been delayed by an air pollution permit, Obama said he would create an interagency task force to coordinate the necessary approvals. He also will hold annual lease sales in the vast National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. Officials said the most recent sale was last year, but that they had not been held on any set schedule.
At first glance, this is positive news for the economy. The economy certainly needs it.