In a reversal, the Obama administration said Wednesday it will not pursue offshore drilling off the East Coast of the U.S. and the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
A senior administration official told The Associated Press that because of the BP oil spill, the Interior Department will not propose any new oil drilling in waters off the East Coast for at least the next seven years.
President Barack Obama’s earlier plan — announced in March, three weeks before the April BP spill — would have authorized officials to explore potential for drilling from Delaware to central Florida, plus the northern waters of Alaska. The new plan allows potential drilling in Alaska, but officials said they will move cautiously before approving any leases.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar planned to discuss details of the decision later Wednesday. He said in a statement obtained by the AP that the BP spill taught officials a number of lessons, “most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime.”
The new strategy focuses on areas with leases that are currently active in the central and western Gulf of Mexico, Salazar said. “Our revised strategy lays out a careful, responsible path for meeting our nation’s energy needs while protecting our oceans and coastal communities,” he said.
Obama’s pre-spill embrace of more offshore drilling was widely viewed as a political ploy to secure more votes for a comprehensive global warming bill in Congress — one of the president’s top domestic priorities. But that bill died last summer, and with Republicans winning control of the House and gaining in the Senate, the bill is unlikely to be revived any time soon.
The eastern Gulf — an area stretching from 125 to 300 miles off Florida’s coast — was singled out for protection by Congress in 2006 as part of a deal with Florida lawmakers that made available 8.3 million acres to oil and gas development in the east-central Gulf. Under that agreement, the protected region is to remain off limits to energy development until 2022.
But the administration had entertained the idea of expanded drilling, until the BP spill that spewed an estimated 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf. In order to open more of the eastern Gulf to drilling, the administration would have to ask Congress to lift the drilling moratorium.
The new plan does not affect the Pacific seaboard, which will remain off-limits to drilling in federal waters.
WH: No East Coast Drilling
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