President Obama: Drill, Baby, Drill

On Wednesday morning at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility in Washington, DC, President Obama will announce that his administration will allow the lease sale to go forward for oil and gas exploration 50 miles off of the Virginia coast -- the first new sales of offshore oil and gas in the Atlantic in more than two decades.

The Department of Interior will also allow seismic exploration for oil and gas in the Outer Continental Shelf from Delaware all the way South to the tip of Florida, to assess the quantity and location of potential oil and gas resources. A White House official says that the president will also approve a lease sale in Alaska's Cook Inlet, while canceling another lease sale in Alaska's Bristol Bay because of environmental concerns. (Lease sales in Alaska's Chukchi and Beaufort Seas are essentially being suspended pending further scientific review.)

The official says that "To set America on a path to energy independence, the President believes we must leverage our diverse domestic resources by pursuing a comprehensive energy strategy."

This includes setting high fuel efficiency standards, the clean energy investments in the stimulus bill, and the recent announcement of loan guarantees for new nuclear reactions. The move represents another step in President Obama's evolution on the issue of offshore drilling.

In June 2008, then-Sen. Obama told reporters in Jacksonville, Florida, "when I'm president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country that prevents oil companies from drilling off Florida's coasts. That's how we can protect our coastline and still make the investments that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and bring down gas prices for good."

In July 2008, he said, of lifting moratoriums on offshore drilling, that "if there were real evidence that these steps would actually provide real, immediate relief at the pump and advance the long-term goal of energy independence, of course I'd be open to them. But so far there isn't."

But his Republican opponents -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and perhaps even more so, his running mate, then-Gov. Sarah Palin, with her "drill, baby, drill" chant -- used the issue to paint Obama as a stubborn ideologue.

But by August, then-Sen. Obama signaled that he was willing to support legislation that included off-shore drilling as part of a bipartisan compromise.

"What I don't want is for the best to be the enemy of the good," he said at the time. "If we can come up with a genuine bipartisan compromise, in which I have to accept some things I don't like and the Democrats have to accept some things they don't like, when it's actually moving us in the direction of energy independence, I'm open to that. What I will not do is support a plan that suggests that drilling is the answer to our energy problems."

By September 2008, then-Sen. Obama was saying an energy strategy means "increasing domestic production and off-shore drilling.

As president earlier this year, he said in his State of the Union address that a sound energy policy "means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development."

In addition to the moves allowing oil and gas exploration and drilling from Delaware to Florida, the Department of the Interior will continue lease sales in the Central and Western Gulf of Mexico, opening up two-thirds of the resources in this region should Congress lift the moratorium imposed upon it.

-jpt

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