Who’s driving President Obama to drill?

by Carolyn Elefant on April 1, 2010

Off shore oil platform at Sunset

You’ve heard the expression “driving them to drink,” right?  Well, could hard core environmental groups and certain resource agencies are driving President Obama to drill?  Sounds crazy, I know, but let’s play this out.

As you’ve probably heard, on March 31, 2010, President Obama reversed longstanding policy and will now allow oil drilling fifty miles off the coast of Virginia as well as an expansion of drilling in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, via AP and New York Times, as well as exploration in areas from off the coast of Delaware through Northern Florida.   Announcing the plan today, Obama explained that given the country’s current energy needs, “we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.”

And why have “homegrown renewables” been slow to ramp up?  I can’t speak for all renewable sources, but I’ve been covering the Cape Wind saga for several years, and I know that an eight year and counting approval for a project tends to have a chilling effect on other renewables development.  And having participated in the Administration’s various Ocean Policy Task Force meetings this past summer, I was disappointed that there was so little included in MSP plans to streamline renewables.

At present, tiny marine renewables companies endure licensing processes of a minimum of five years, not to mention millions of dollars in studies that simply aren’t necessary for such tiny and fairly benign projects.  The industry has argued that marine renewables are compatible with our nation’s environmental goals and searched for solutions to develop these projects in an environmentally responsible manner – only to be met with requests for more studies and more conditions.   And so projects weren’t built – or even started, thus leaving no alternative but to drill.

It’s possible that drilling will result in additional royalties and funding for offshore renewables. But it’s also possible that lots of the companies that saw offshore renewables as an attractive investment alternative will now pull out and spend their money on a sure thing:  drilling.

As for those who would seek to slow down offshore renewables with onerous demands for studies and mitigation and data, bear in mind:  you can stop the projects (after all, fledgling companies can’t put up much of a fight before they drown).  But you can’t stop the need for energy.  And if renewables aren’t there to fill the void, drilling for oil  and conventional fuels are always ready to go as the fallback.

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