After recently passing one of the most extensive pieces of social legislation in the last four decades, President Obama has decided to offer a plan for offshore drilling in several Atlantic states. A plan which has drawn criticism from environmental activists, though it does limit that all drilling must be done at least 150 miles offshore, to decrease environmental and commercial impact.
That hasn’t stopped some environmentalists from feeling betrayed by the president.
One spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity even touted the plan as similar to some of George Bush’s policies. Both ex-president George W. Bush and ex-vice president Dick Cheney were oil men, and were viewed with skepticism from liberal groups as politicians who wanted to enrich the pockets of their friends in big oil firms while trashing the environment.
Though some liberal environmental groups are giving Obama a pass, and noting that the offer to drill offshore will likely include legislation which regulates carbon emissions. Currently, energy policy legislation is now stalled in the Senate due to Scott Brown’s recent victory in Massachusetts which destroyed the democrats supermajority in that body.
Obama aides, perhaps tongue in cheek, announced the plans to drill offshore as part of a “clean energy” strategy which would include advancing green technology energy sources such as solar energy.
But how much oil and natural gas is in the Atlantic coastal waters? Supposedly, approximately 4 billion barrels of oil are in the proposed drilling areas in the Atlantic. And the United States imports about 2 billion barrels of oil a year from OPEC countries, meaning that oil recovered in the Atlantic waters could help stabilize oil prices in the United States, and even in the world in the short term. Though by how much is debatable.
In addition to oil, there are an estimated 37 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Atlantic coastal areas. As the United States imports 2.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year, recovery of this natural gas could significantly help to decrease natural gas costs, as well as supply natural gas to power plants which use to generate electricity.
The president’s plan, to consider widespread oil drilling in coastal areas of the Atlantic is a marked departure from American policy over the last twenty years which has banned oil drilling in all coastal waters, except those of the gulf coast.
Though the president hopes to gain needed bipartisan support to pass sweeping energy reform, the move could be a signal that rising oil and natural gas prices could hobble the downturn economy which is nursing a fragile recovery effort. While President Obama hopes that the nation may one day become “energy independent” the move may have been taken to buffer fluctuations in gasoline prices in the short term.
While it may take years to develop the drilling capability to get at the oil and natural gas, the very fact that this oil may enter the pipeline will have an immediate effect on markets. Especially given concerns about total world oil supplies, which are notoriously difficult to estimate.
Recently, the energy department noted that world oil production may decline in 2011. This is bad news for just about everybody on the planet as oil production is used to power the world’s transportation, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors. Many believe that the spike in gasoline prices before the beginning of the current recession may in part be to blame for the economic meltdown. As the world inevitably runs out of oil, eventually oil production will plateau and the price of gasoline will skyrocket due to increasing demand in countries that are rapidly industrializing such as India and China. If the price of gasoline rose to perhaps five dollars a gallon in the United States, this could obviously have a dire impact on the country’s economy.
While hybrid vehicles and electric cars are viewed by some as expensive alternatives for yuppies who want to appear environmentally conscious, their development is crucial for the future day to day business of the United States. Eventually their day will come, but many in the Obama administration and elsewhere are talking about a “bridge” to green technology, which pretty much means finding more oil while our engineers fine tune and mass produce electric cars and trucks at a reasonable cost.
While cheap oil and gas right off the eastern seaboard sounds nice, there are known environmental impacts and even unknown environmental impacts which will be studied by scientists before drilling is given the thumbs up in certain areas. A massive oil spill 125 miles off the coast of Florida might cause massive devastation to ecosystems. Besides oil spills, the sounds coming from oil drilling stations, as well as seismic charges used to map underwater reserves, can disorient whales and could lead to mass beachings of whales.
Offshore drilling also can release dangerous chemicals which can poison local wildlife. In conclusion, the total effects of oil drilling platforms in the ocean are hard to measure as relatively few studies have been done.
Hopefully, the Obama administration will study carefully the coastal areas and ecosystem where it wants to allow drilling and will make an informed decision as to where offshore drilling can occur.