- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Obama administration proposed an offshore drilling plan Tuesday that managed to irk just about everybody, from Democrats and environmentalists who oppose undersea exploration to Republicans and industry groups who say the president is simply stalling genuine action until he leaves office.

The draft five-year plan would open the coastal waters off the southeastern U.S., from Virginia to Georgia, to drilling as early as 2017. But it would also close vast areas of the Alaskan and Pacific coasts to energy exploration.

The Interior Department proposed 14 potential lease sales overall — 10 in the Gulf of Mexico, three off the coast of Alaska, and one off Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. Drilling in the Atlantic, if it ever occurred, would be required to be at least 50 miles offshore.

“The safe and responsible development of our nation’s domestic energy resources is a key part of the president’s efforts to support American jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, though she added that potential leasing in the Atlantic is at an “early stage.”

“We are looking to build up our understanding of resource potential, as well as risks to the environment and other uses,” Ms. Jewell said.

Democrats and their environmental allies voiced opposition to the plan, which is subject to a public-comment period, saying oil and gas companies already hold leases on vast undersea tracts that they aren’t exploring.

Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the proposal will “put the entire eastern seaboard at risk of a catastrophic oil spill.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat, said oil-drilling rigs in the Atlantic would be vulnerable to strong storms such as Hurricane Sandy, which hit the mid-Atlantic coast in 2012.

“Why would we put drilling rigs off our coasts and put them in the paths of these storms that are getting supercharged by climate change?” Mr. Markey asked.

Erik Milito, director of upstream activities at the American Petroleum Institute, said the administration’s plan “completely ignores areas where oil and natural gas development could create more than half a million new American jobs and generate hundreds of billions of dollars for the government.”

“The administration is compromising our ability to compete globally by restricting so much of the nation’s oil and natural gas resources,” Mr. Milito said. “While considering the Atlantic for potential development is a good step, the administration’s proposal represents the bare minimum for potentially opening that area by including only a single lease sale six years from now.”

The White House also announced that it would designate portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas near Alaska off-limits for drilling, action which comes on the heels of Mr. Obama announcing last month that he was blocking oil leases in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

And on Sunday, Mr. Obama announced plans to designate more than 12 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as wilderness area, which would prevent energy exploration in any of the vast tract along Alaska’s northern coast.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Republican, criticized the Obama administration for “its continued campaign to shut down oil and natural gas activity in Alaska.”

“This offshore plan is yet another example of their short-sighted thinking,” said Mrs. Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “I think we all know what promises from this administration are worth. They promised Alaska multiple lease sales under the current five-year plan, but so far there have been none, as sales continue to be postponed even past when the president will no longer be in office. I look forward to working with the next administration to ensure that Americans have access to abundant and affordable energy.”

House Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, Utah Republican, said the administration’s moves were “a step backward” in the quest for energy independence.

“Someday this administration will move the goal of energy independence forward,” Mr. Bishop said. “Unfortunately, this is not that day — again. What they have proposed is the lowest number of lease sales in the history” of the program.

“The Obama administration has dashed America’s offshore energy hopes once again by locking up vast swaths of taxpayer-owned resources for exploration,” Mr. Bishop said. “Instead of exploring America’s energy potential, the administration would rather leave these assets untapped, cutting off investment and limiting possibilities for job creation.”

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