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To Drill or Not to Drill?

An oil platform in New Zealand

Late in the Bush administration, the president lifted an executive order banning offshore drilling. A few months later, facing skyrocketing gas prices, Congress allowed a congressional moratorium, dating back to 1982, to lapse. Offshore drilling has been blatantly polarizing national politics ever since.

In mid-February, the Obama administration road blocked the new offshore drilling plans initiated by their predecessors. They did not ban the practice outright, but they did delay final decisions until at least the fall, giving state governments, oil companies, environmental groups, and any other interested parties time to weigh in on the controversy. Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, also ordered his department to report on alternative energies, such as wind and wave power, available on the Continental Shelf, citing that the Bush administration had ignored such alternatives and based their decision on information 20 to 30 years old.

Virginia Governor Tim Kaine was quick to request the Department of the Interior delay the leasing of any land off his state’s coastline for the purposes of offshore drilling. The Virginia coastline was part of the area protected by the now lapsed bans, an area including much of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as well as large portions of the Outer Continental Shelf. Currently, offshore drilling is only allowed in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska.

Wednesday, executives from several major oil companies, including BP America, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil, met with Congress to push for the expansion of offshore drilling. They pointed out that despite growing green energy alternatives, the U.S. currently imports 65 percent of the oil and natural gas it consumes every year. They also pointed to government studies that estimated the untouched regions could contain around 17.8 billion barrels of oil and 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, a great boon for energy independence as well as national security.

Environmental organizations are vehemently opposed to any increase in offshore drilling, citing the possibility of future oil spills and their subsequent devastation to marine life. President Obama has only said that he might support some increase in offshore drilling as a part of a larger U.S. energy plan. No doubt, the debate will continue to rage.

Photo Credit: PhillipC at flickr

Written by Lisa Wojnovich

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