Critics of President Barack Obama, particularly politicians from the Midwestern states, have made a slogan out of environmental regulations pushed by the administration. Obama’s War on Coal, they call it.
Well, what about oil?
If not war, at least Obama is showing a strange aversion to drilling, including the oil drilling he frequently bragged about on the campaign trail in 2012, when he boasted of the energy revolution underway because of onshore fracking.
The administration said Tuesday it will bar oil drilling in the Atlantic Ocean off the coasts of an energy-hungry America.
We think this policy reversal is both shortsighted and politically very strange.
Backers of Atlantic drilling include not only Republicans but Democrats; it has support from governors of the coastal states of Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia. While some politicians of both parties line up on different sides of the question, one of the backers of Atlantic drilling used to be Obama.
The president’s openness to Atlantic drilling was commendable. Sooner or later, the United States will need to develop all its energy resources — as the president said often, an all-of-the-above strategy that over the coming decades would include Atlantic Coast drilling.
The Atlantic seabed is believed to hold substantial oil and gas deposits. Unfortunately, extensive and thus expensive exploration of the potential of the region is difficult for companies, even the majors, who would not be able to bid on and develop any finds.
We believe the best response to Obama’s newest reversal of direction is to push for thorough government-sponsored assessment of the energy potential off the Atlantic Coast. That will suggest how much is there and how much it will cost, in both infrastructure on the shoreline as well as offshore, to develop the energy deposits.
The Interior Department estimates there are 3.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil on the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Energy industry experts told The Associated Press reserves may be far greater.
Developing those resources could take considerable time. The Gulf Coast’s energy infrastructure for offshore drilling is more than a half-century old, and replicating that industry on the East Coast would be a long-term proposition.
The problem with Obama’s decision is that it does not look to the long term.
Today, oil is below $40 a barrel, and the exploration and drilling industry only expects a slow climb back up. But in the long term, however long it will take, the price of energy is going to continue to rise, even as Americans also use less energy. Conservation is, after all, part of any all-of-the-above energy strategy, and we welcome continued advances in lower energy usage.
But a growing economy is not going to be one in which energy prices rise because supply is constrained by artificial and political barriers like drilling bans in the Atlantic — or the Pacific or Arctic oceans. While there is some risk to offshore drilling, as we saw tragically in the Gulf in 2010, safety and energy production are likely to be advancing together over the next generation.
The president will leave office in January, but we hope his successors will show more foresight for America’s energy future.