President Obama tried to make a skillful political decision by permitting some offshore drilling for oil and natural gas. But he's obscured a more important message: The US must leave oil behind.
President Obama’s decision to open large areas off the US coastline for offshore drilling of oil and natural gas mixes a blob of political calculation with a dollop of questionable energy policy. The resulting sludge looks unappealing.
The president aims to win over at least a few Senate Republicans to pending energy and greenhouse-gas-cutting legislation by giving them something they want: a more aggressive search for domestic fossil fuels. But the early reaction from the GOP was tepid, at best. There’s no evidence yet that this compromise will move a single vote.
In 1969, off Santa Barbara, Calif., 3 million gallons of crude oil bubbled up from the seabed after a blowout on an oil-drilling platform. It spread into an 800-square-mile slick that coated more than 30 miles of coastline with black sludge. With improved technologies and techniques, the chance of an offshore oil spill has diminished considerably. But the possibility will always remain.
It’s too soon to know how meaningful any new offshore oil finds will be. Estimates vary widely. The areas must be analyzed using modern exploration techniques. But at best they would be a thin new cushion on the bumpy road to America’s inevitable postoil future. Any new finds are unlikely to ever significantly lower gas prices at the pump or provide a meaningful percentage of US oil needs.