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Obama opens seas, Atlantic and Arctic, to oil drilling

After a longstanding drilling ban off the Atlantic Coast, Obama proposes extracting oil and gas from seabeds from Delaware to Florida. A way to wean off foreign oil or a short-sighted environmental pillage?

In a possible attempt to push along a stalled climate bill, President Obama seeks to expand offshore drilling into new areas.

With the exception of the Gulf of Mexico, most of the nation's coastlines have been off limits to drilling for more than two decades.

In his announcement, Obama stated:

Drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs, and...for the sake of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.

In the meantime, the plan would affect nearly 167 million new acres of ocean waters, and open 24 million acres to oil rigs in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Also on the table, are about 130 million acres of Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

The shores off Jersey and New England were not included in the proposal, nor was the Pacific Coast.

Due to environmental concerns, Alaska's Bristol Bay—home to endangered whales and commercial fisheries— will remain protected.

First on the drilling block is a patch of seafloor 50 miles off of Virginia. This is an oil lease is leftover from the Bush Administration. As for the rest of Eastern Seaboard from Delaware to Florida, more research addressing geological and environmental concerns is needed.

New York Times reports:

It is not known how much potential fuel lies in the areas opened to exploration, although according to Interior Department estimates there could be as much as a three-year supply of recoverable oil and more than two years’ worth of natural gas, at current rates of consumption. But those estimates are based on seismic data that is, in some cases, more than 30 years old.

In many of the newly opened areas, drilling would begin only after the completion of geologic studies, environmental impact statements, court challenges and public lease sales. 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.

Our Atlantic coastal waters may contain, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates, about 4 billion barrels of oil. We import 2 billion barrels from OPEC nations yearly.

While public opinion for nuclear power is growing more positive (a recent poll reported 74 percent of surveyed Americans supported nuclear energy), opening the nation's seabeds to oil excavation does not sit well with many, including senators and governors from coastal states and environmental groups.

From Sierra Club's response to the Obama's proposal:

It will only jeopardize beaches, marine life, and coastal tourist economies, all so the oil industry can make a short-term profit.

We can achieve real energy independence and economic vitality by investing in clean energy like wind and solar and efficiency. This kind of power creates good, lasting American jobs and positions our nation to become a global leader in the new clean energy economy.

Image: Flickr/straight, no chaser

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com