Obama proposes oil drilling in Atlantic – Philly.com

Posted: Wednesday, January 28, 2015

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration floated a plan Tuesday that for the first time would open up a broad swath of the Atlantic Coast to drilling, even as it moved to restrict drilling indefinitely in environmentally sensitive areas off Alaska.

The proposal envisions auctioning areas located more than 50 miles off Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to oil companies no earlier than 2021, long after President Obama leaves office. For decades, oil companies have been barred from drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, where a moratorium was in place up until 2008.

The plan also calls for leasing 10 areas in the Gulf of Mexico, long the epicenter of U.S. offshore oil production, and three off the Alaska coast.

“This is a balanced proposal that would make available nearly 80 percent of the undiscovered technically recoverable resources, while protecting areas that are simply too special to develop,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a conference call with reporters. “The areas off the table are very small in comparison to areas on the table.”

The plan, which covers potential lease sales in the 2017-2022 time frame, drew immediate reaction from Capitol Hill, where Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., Alaska) called it a war on her home state, and where Northeastern Democrats objected to the proposal for the Atlantic Ocean, saying an oil spill knows no boundaries.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) said that many along the Jersey shore are still recovering from Hurricane Sandy.

“The last thing that these people need is the threat of a man-made disaster from an oil spill on top of a natural disaster, and that threat is very real,” Menendez said at a news conference. “Oil companies don’t need another handout. They don’t need another gift from the federal government.”

At the same event, Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) said “the benefits from this would be narrowly applied to the oil industry, while New Jersey and our partner states on the Atlantic would face that threat, that sacrifice . . . this to me is unacceptable.”

But a South Jersey Republican who represents a significant stretch of shoreline in Ocean County said he supported Obama’s proposal.

“American energy independence is both possible and necessary, and I’m pleased that President Obama is taking this step today towards getting us there,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R., N.J.) said in a news release. “While this is just the beginning of a long process, I am hopeful that the president and this administration will remain committed to making offshore exploration and production a reality, specifically in areas where there are proven resources and there is a reasonable distance from our coastal communities.”

An aide later added, though, that MacArthur opposes drilling off the Jersey shore.

Congress does not have a direct role in the proposal and cannot formally block it, so it’s not clear whether lawmakers will be able to stop the plan.

The proposal comes as the United States is in the midst of an oil boom and when oil prices, and pump prices, are at near-historic lows.

Staff writer Jonathan Tamari contributed to this article.


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