WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will announce new plans to drill for oil and natural gas off America’s coasts today but will rule out drilling off California, Oregon and Washington state through 2017, administration officials say.
Obama’s plans will include opening new areas of coastal Virginia and other parts of the mid-Atlantic region, Alaska and the eastern Gulf of Mexico for drilling. But officials say the president will block drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay, where the George W. Bush administration’s drilling plans in 2007 angered environmentalists.
According to administration officials, the plan would:
Eventually open two-thirds of the eastern Gulf’s oil and gas resources for drilling.
Proceed with drilling off Virginia, provided the project clears environmental and military reviews.
Study the viability of drilling off the mid- and southern Atlantic coasts.
Study the viability of drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas – areas defended by environmentalists – but issue no new drilling leases in either sea before 2013.
The eastern Gulf of Mexico leases hinge on Congress lifting a moratorium on drilling there. Even if that happens, administration officials said, Obama’s plan included no drilling within 125 miles of the Florida coastline.
The announcement, scheduled for an energy security event at Joint Base Andrews Naval Air Facility, will be Obama’s first major policy step into the politically charged area of offshore drilling.
The president’s drilling plans run through 2017. The likely scope and details of the proposals represent compromises that risk angering energy companies and environmentalists alike.
The proposals will be open for public comment for several months, then will be finalized by the administration.
Obama’s announcement will come in the run-up to the summer driving season, as gasoline prices have begun a national march toward $3 a gallon.
The administration is pushing expanded offshore exploration as a bargaining chip in its attempt to enact legislation to curb oil imports and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy companies and conservatives have clamored for increased drilling. since gasoline prices rose in 2008. Environmentalists contend that more drilling could lead to oil spills and the.
While campaigning for the White House, Obama called for increased, targeted drilling.
Shortly after Obama took office, his Interior Department retracted a Bush administration proposal for drilling from 2012 to 2017. Later, a court invalidated portions of the nation’s existing drilling plan.
Today’s announcement will set out a 2012-17 proposal as well as immediate plans for lease sales.
Administration officials said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, as part of Obama’s new drilling plan, will scrap a planned lease sale for Bristol Bay. Obama will announce that he is reverting to the policies of Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who both blocked drilling in the bay.