Home Energy and Environment Obama Opens Virginia Coast to “Drill Baby Drill?”

Obama Opens Virginia Coast to “Drill Baby Drill?”


Is Barack Obama about to open up Virginia’s coast to offshore oil drilling?  According to this and this, it sure looks like the “drill baby drill” crowd is going to get its wish.

In a reversal of a long-standing ban on most offshore drilling, President Barack Obama is allowing oil drilling 50 miles off Virginia’s shorelines. At the same time, he is rejecting some new drilling sites that had been planned in Alaska.


White House officials hope Wednesday’s announcement will attract support from Republicans, who adopted a chant of “Drill, baby, drill” during 2008’s presidential campaign.

The president’s Wednesday remarks would be paired with other energy proposals that were more likely to find praise from environmental groups. The White House planned to announce it had ordered 5,000 hybrid vehicles for the government fleet. And on Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department are to sign a final rule that requires increased fuel efficiency standards for new cars.

I have three immediate reactions.

First, as Tom Perriello has said, offshore oil drilling is a “2 cent solution to a 4 dollar problem.”  The problem, of course, is America’s heavy dependence on oil imports, and the negative national security implications that flow from this dependence. As former CIA Director Jim Woolsey says (quoted on the Operation FREE website), “We pay Saudi Arabia $160 billion for its oil, and $3 or $4 billion of that goes to the Wahhabis, who teach children to hate. We are paying for these terrorists with our SUVs.”   How do we break this dangerous “oil addiction?” By far, the biggest “bang for the buck” is increased efficiency of our vehicle fleet. It’s not even close.  In contrast, offshore oil drilling in the United States – a “mature oil province” where the production cost of a marginal barrel, certainly a marginal barrel offshore, is relatively high by world standards – represents the low end of the “bang for the buck” scale. Why would we focus our efforts on the low end of the “bang for the buck” scale instead of the high end? Got me.

Second, this is political pandering to the nth degree. Let’s face it, “drill baby drill” is popular with the American public, especially with Republicans, and this is clearly an attempt to mollify those folks. We’ll see if it works, but I’m skeptical, especially given the vicious opposition to health care reform, despite the fact that it provides tremendous benefits to most of the people protesting it. Perhaps opposition to Barack Obama isn’t coming mainly from reasoned differences with his policy choices?

Third, this announcement, if it ever was made at all, should have been made only as part of a “grand bargain” on energy and climate change. In that context, I could see environmentalists conceding offshore oil drilling, in certain areas  and under tight environmental rules, in exchange for putting a price on carbon; establishing an aggressive, national, renewable portfolio standard; investing heavily in energy efficiency and other, non-carbon-emitting energy sources (wind, solar, geothermal, wave, tidal, possibly even nuclear); cranking up fuel economy standards for automobiles and research into battery technology; building a national, “smart grid;;’ etc.  Unfortunately, what I see here is very little (5,000 hybrid vehicles? is that a joke?) in exchange for opening up our coasts to oil drilling.  This is more like the “ExxonMobil Corporate Welfare Act of 2010” than the “Energy Independence and Climate Protection Act of 2010.”  That’s a major, missed opportunity. It’s also not the “change” many of us who voted for Obama can believe in.

UPDATE: The more I think about this, the more I’m wondering if Obama isn’t being very clever here by “calling the bluff” of the “drill baby drill” crowd.  As a commenter at Daily Kos writes:

This pretty much gives the “drill here, drill now, pay less” crowd the opportunity to put up or shut up.

After this makes no difference to oil prices, because the US no longer has any economically recoverable oil reserves (if we did, we’d have drilled there decades ago), maybe they’ll have to admit we have a problem.

UPDATE #2: Wow, this is a shocker!

President Barack Obama’s plan to allow expanded offshore oil and gas exploration won rebuke from the top House Republican on Wednesday.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) dismissed the president’s plan as not going far enough in opening up U.S. waters for exploration.

Obama’s decision “continues to defy the will of the American people,” Boehner said in a statement, pointing to the president’s decision to open Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters, while leaving Pacific and many Alaskan waters largely closed to exploration.

Amazing, who would have ever predicted that Republicans wouldn’t rush to praise Obama for his “drill baby drill” (wide) stance? I’m shocked, shocked I say! Heh.

UPDATE 5 pm: Bob McDonnell has issued a statement.

I thank the President and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar for ensuring Virginia will be the first state on the East Coast to explore for and produce energy offshore. The President’s decision to allow energy exploration off Virginia’s coast will mean thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in new state revenue and tens of billions of dollars in economic impact for the Commonwealth. It will also help our nation take a further step towards energy independence. Environmentally-safe offshore energy exploration and production is good for Virginia workers, the Virginia economy and national security. Just this session the General Assembly passed, with bipartisan support, legislation I requested to authorize offshore oil and gas exploration and drilling and to allocate 80% of revenues to transportation and 20% to green energy research and development.

The effort to ensure that Virginia stayed on track to hold an offshore lease sale as expeditiously as possible has been a bipartisan one at the federal level as well. I want to specifically thank Senator Mark Warner, Senator Jim Webb and Congressman Eric Cantor for their leadership and advocacy on the issue. I also want to thank all the Republicans and Democrats in our Congressional delegation who have strongly advocated for offshore energy production.

With today’s announcement, oil and gas can be produced in an environmentally-safe manner 50 miles off Virginia’s coast. Virginians will benefit from the thousands of jobs that will be created and the economic activity and development that will accompany this vital industry’s arrival in the state. However, to fully participate in the positive impact of offshore energy development, the Commonwealth must be included in all royalty and revenue sharing arrangements, in a manner equivalent to what the Gulf Coast states currently receive. Congressman Bob Goodlatte has already introduced legislation, with bipartisan support, to ensure revenue sharing.  I urge our federal representatives to immediately move forward in ensuring Virginia receives our fair share of the revenues derived from our natural resources. I am confident that the United States Congress will act appropriately and expeditiously to ensure this occurs.

Offshore energy production is one part of an “all of the above” approach to ensuring energy security. It is an important component of the comprehensive energy policy that we must enact to move towards greater domestic energy security. We will also do more in Virginia to promote and produce other sources of energy in our borders, including wind, solar, biomass, coal and nuclear. Today’s announcement means future new jobs for Virginians and much-needed revenue for our Commonwealth. Again, I applaud the President for his decision, and thank all the Virginia leaders from both parties who have worked together to make this announcement possible.

  • I’m happy to see the President take this step. While off-shore drilling won’t solve the problem completely, any domestic production helps us reduce what we have to buy overseas. As this was a feature in Governor McDonnell’s jobs plan, I’m glad we got some support from the White House on it.

    • TomPaine

      other low-information Republicans; Bush gave them Iraq. Obama gives them “Drill, baby drill.”

  • Eileen Levandoski

    Virginia Offshore Drilling Yields Net Job Loss, Risk to Coastal Economy

    [March 31, 2010 Virginia Beach, VA] – In anticipation of today’s announcement by President Obama regarding expansion of offshore drilling into areas that were previously protected, including drilling off Virginia’s coast, the Sierra Club Virginia Chapter offered the following statements:

    “We are deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has chosen to open up new areas that have long stood protected from the dirty, risky business of offshore drilling”, said Glen Besa, Virginia Chapter Director with the Sierra Club.  “Our beloved clean Virginia beaches are the backbone of our coastal economy, generating billions of dollars in revenues from tourism, recreation and commercial fishing.”

    “Offering Virginia’s Lease Sale 220 as soon as 2011 represents a horrible rush to judgment that trumps thorough environmental study with politics as usual”, said Eileen Levandoski, Hampton Roads Coordinator with the Sierra Club.  “Despite the fact that information on the possible effects of Atlantic drilling is ’30 years out of date’ as Interior Secretary Salazar points out, Virginia’s offshore areas will be leased to Big Oil in little over one year and the bull allowed into the China shop.”

    As revealed at a Mineral Management Services workshop in Williamsburg in late 2008, large data gaps exist when it comes to the endangered and protected species and the diverse ecosystems found in Virginia’s offshore ocean canyons and coral reefs. Especially for oil spill risk analysis, current and wind information has been deemed a high priority data gap.  

    “Not only are there huge gaps in the scientific information needed to evaluate the impact of drilling off Virginia’s coast, but its offshore zone is a vital piece of a much larger and interconnected coastal and oceanic ecosystem”, added Levandoski.  “Rather than singling out a small area off a single state for environmental study – as Virginia is right now – the Atlantic coast as a whole needs to be thoroughly studied. That study is painfully absent from the drilling plan currently being proposed.”

    “Numerous questions also arise as a result of a District of Columbia Court of Appeals’ opinion tossing out the 2007-2012 drilling program for its deficiencies in the scientific and environmental analysis”, said Besa. “The legal ramifications of proceeding with drilling Virginia’s offshore zone, which was proposed in this flawed program, should instead be giving our policymakers great pause.”

    “Also, mixing rockets, missiles and live munitions with offshore drilling rigs and pipelines is an environmental nightmare waiting to happen”, said Levandoski. “Thus the Navy and NASA have maintained their constant opposition to Virginia offshore drilling.”  

    “Encroachment in the Virginia CAPES operating area, where the Navy has maintained its opposition to Virginia drilling, would provide compelling reason for Navy to move its forces to states like Florida that protect offshore training ranges from drilling”, said Levandoski.  “The loss of Oceana jets means a net loss of 11,000 jobs, $773 million in annual payroll, and $452 million in annual local contracting.  This loss of jobs dwarfs even the most speculative of job creation estimates from Virginia drilling.”

    “There are not only the risks of spills both chronic and catastrophic but also the industrialization of our coastal communities that would either debilitate or destroy Virginia’s coastal economy,” said Besa. “For just the Mid-Atlantic area alone, the annual value of these sustainable activities is almost 4 times that of oil and gas extraction.  That’s $13.55 billion from industries completely dependent on clean beaches and healthy ocean waters compared to $3.7 billion from dwindling nonrenewable risky source that in Virginia’s case represents a mere 6.5 days of supply before it’s exhausted.”

  • I’m not generally opposed to exploiting — I mean, exploring — our natural resources even at some reasonable (by my standards) environmental cost, and I’m first in line when it comes to advocating for weaning ourselves from foreign oil.  But this move just strikes me as giving away something for nothing.  This makes the Democratic party look less than serious on environmental issues.  It does nothing to help out Congressional candidates this fall.  The amount of oil may be negligible at best, and may not even be there.  Maybe the White House is seeing some factor that the average American like me cannot, but politically, economically and environmentally, I don’t see that we get anything out of this.

    • Most of these questions are going to be answered once the exploration that the President is allowing is completed. I would think oil at $80 a barrel right now would be sufficient to get someone to go out and drill the exploratory wells. Seeing as how its possible to do this without a significant chance of damage to the environment, I don’t see the point in being against it. Fundamentally, any amount of oil we retrieve is better than nothing. The transition from a petroleum based energy economy is a long term one and we will need domestic sources of energy in the meantime.  

  • TomPaine

    not that it would get their support; I do not believe in miracles!

    It certainly distracted Brian Schoeneman, and he is not low-information, merely misinformed I rest my case.