WASHINGTON - President Obama detailed a plan earlier this week to allow oil and natural gas drilling along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the north coast of Alaska, the New York Times reports.
The controversial announcement reverses a longstanding moratorium on exploration from northern Delaware to central Florida that covers 167 million acres of ocean, and is intended to produce more domestic energy while generating revenue from the sale of offshore leases.
"This is not a decision that I€™ve made lightly," Obama said. "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 announcement was met with swift condemnation from environmental groups.
"We€™re appalled that the president is unleashing a wholesale assault on the oceans," said Jacqueline Savitz of the environmental group Oceana. "Expanding offshore drilling is the wrong move if the Obama administration is serious about improving energy security, creating lasting jobs and averting climate change."
Obama responded to those critics who branded the decision a threat to the environment.
"There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling, 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."
At the same time, some oil industry officials said that the president did not go far enough in opening up domestic resources for drilling.
Under the president's plan, the coastline from New Jersey northward would remain closed to drilling activity, as would the Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada and Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska. Large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska would be eligible for exploration and drilling.
Obama's plan adopts many of the proposals offered by President George W. Bush, including opening much of the Atlantic and Arctic Coasts. Obama set aside those proposals shortly after he took office.
Actual drilling in the newly opened areas would begin only after the completion of geologic studies, environmental impact statements, court challenges, and public lease sales.