President Barack Obama announced will lift a 20-year ban on offshore oil and natural gas drilling and exploration, hoping to create jobs, generate revenue and reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil.
Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released a detailed plan to allow drilling off the Atlantic coast, eastern Gulf of Mexico and north coast of Alaska, provided coastlines are protected. Environmental concerns about the possibility of oil spills initially caused the drilling ban. Drilling would still be prohibited from New Jersey northward, on the Pacific Coast and in Alaska's Bristol Bay.
The plan aims to bolster the United States' ability to supply its own energy, but also acknowledges the need to move toward clean energy policies and protect natural resources.
"This is not a decision that I've made lightly," the president said in prepared remarks in an energy security speech at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland . "But the bottom line is this: given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we're going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy."
The move also is intended to win over Republicans on future energy initiatives, as a climate change bill is expected to move through the Senate in weeks to come. The GOP wanted the ban lifted so the United States could decrease its foreign energy dependency.
Areas proposed for immediate exploration are 50 miles off the coast of Virginia and may hold 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the Interior Department. The first lease sale could occur as soon as early 2011.
The eastern Gulf tract is estimated to contain 3.5 billion barrels of oil and 17 trillion cubic feet of gas, and would be at least 125 miles off Florida and Alabama coasts to try and limit environmental concerns.
Environmentalists are voicing strong opposition, arguing the amount of oil reserves does not justify the risks posed by the drilling.
"We're appalled that the president is unleashing a wholesale assault on the oceans," Jacqueline Savitz, from the environmental group Oceana, told The New York Times. "Expanding offshore drilling is the wrong move if the Obama administration is serious about improving energy security, creating lasting jobs and averting climate change."
In a sign of clean energy policies to come, Obama did stress the importance of increased biofuel usage because drilling alone will not allow the country to meet its energy needs. He unveiled a biofuel-powered Navy F-18 fighter jet called the Green Hornet that will be flown on Earth Day for the first time. The Air Force just last week completed its first successful biofuel-powered test flight.
"There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling," said Obama. "But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake."
News and Related Story Links:
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Remarks by The President on Energy Security at Andrews Air Force Base
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Obama Details Plan to Open Offshore Areas to Drilling
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