Processing Magazine

New Interior Secretary rejects Bush offshore drilling plan

February 11, 2009
The Associated Press reports that, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has rejected a Bush administration plan to open vast waters off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to oil and gas drilling. Salazar, at a news conference, criticized "the midnight timetable" for new oil and gas development on the country''s Outer Continental Shelf proposed by the Bush administration just four days before President Barack Obama took office in January. The secretary said the previous administration''s plan did not take into consideration the views of states and coastal communities, nor a need to better understand what energy resources are at stake, especially off the Atlantic coast where oil and gas estimates are more than three decades old. Salazar did not rule out expanded offshore drilling, but criticized the Bush proposal, which envisioned energy development from New England to Alaska including lease sales in areas off California and in the North Atlantic that have been off-limits for a quarter century. Last fall Congress ended the 1981-drilling ban that has kept energy companies from exploring or conducting seismic studies across 85 percent of the offshore federal waters. The Interior Department to issue specific plans for drilling leases. And Salazar indicated that he is in no rush to open vast expanses of long-protected waters. He has directed Interior Department scientists to produce new reports on how much oil and gas might be found off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and he has extended the public comment period on a new five-year leasing plan to September. He will also hold regional meetings to get comments from the public before continuing with an offshore energy plan. Obama has said he''s not opposed to drilling in some waters that have been off limits, but insisted it should be part of a broader energy plan. Salazar said any offshore energy plan must include a push for more renewable energy, principally wind power. He promised to move aggressively to complete a new regulation on offshore renewable energy programs including wind, solar and wave energy projects. But Salazar did not rule out an expansion off offshore oil and gas drilling. Salazar, however, has not abandoned a proposal for oil and gas leasing off Virginia, which is included in the current drilling plan scheduled to expire in 2012, nor has he indicated a desire to cancel leasing plans off Alaska including in the Chukchi Sea and Bristol Bay were drilling leases are facing court challenges. The announcement was hailed by environmentalists and some drilling opponents in Congress as a new direction for the U.S. offshore energy development. At an energy conference in Houston, BP chief executive Tony Hayward and Royal Dutch Shell CEO Jeroen van der Veer urged the government to open more offshore regions to exploration and production, citing that the companies have the resources and technology to safely tap into the resources with minimal impact to the environment. The Interior Department estimates -- using 30-year-old studies -- that offshore waters recently lifted from drilling bans contain at least 18 billion barrels of oil, about half of it off California.