Drill Baby Drill? Not so Fast: Interior Dept. Scraps Bush Offshore Drilling Plan
Citing the need for a longer period of public review, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced today that he will “send back to the drawing board” the last-minute offshore drilling plan proposed by the Bush administration.
Submitted on January 16, their last day of official business, the Bush plan called for a 60-day public comment period of its 5-year offshore drilling plan. Salazar will add another 180 days to the review process.
“To establish an orderly process that allows us to make wise decisions based on sound information, we need to set aside the Bush Administration’s midnight timetable for its OCS (outer continental shelf) drilling plan and create our own timeline,” Salazar said today at Department of Interior headquarters.
The Bush plan – that didn’t publish in the Federal Register (pdf) until January 21st, the day after he left office – established March 23, 2009 as the deadline for public comment. Salazar felt that shortened time frame for public review was insufficient and did not serve the best interests of taxpayers expecting wise decisions on offshore energy development.
Salazar also cited a unacceptable lack of current information and analysis of the resources available offshore: “In the biggest area that the Bush Administration’s draft OCS plan proposes for oil and gas drilling – the Atlantic seaboard, from Maine to Florida – our data on available resources is very thin, and what little we have is twenty to thirty years old,” he said. “We shouldn’t make decisions to sell off taxpayer resources based on old information.”
Incorporating renewable energy development
“The Bush Administration was so intent on opening new areas for oil and gas offshore that it torpedoed offshore renewable energy efforts,” Salazar said. To remedy the “headlong rush” to develop oil and gas at the expense of renewable energy development, Salazar says he will “build a framework” to incorporate development of wind, wave, and ocean current energy, along with oil and gas, into a comprehensive energy plan.
Oil and gas developers not amused
Not surprisingly, oil and gas interests are upset with Salazar’s announcement. Barry Russell, chief executive of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, accused Salazar of imposing an “unnecessary delay”.
There is concern amongst some environmental advocacy groups that Salazar has said he will not intervene on the sale of exploration and drilling rights off the Virgina coast, but most have praised Salazar’s overall approach for extended review on development of the outer continental shelf.
In a press statement, Sierra Club Public Lands Director Athan Manuel said:
“Energy independence and jobs will be won by investing in clean energy, not by handing over our coasts to the oil industry. The Obama administration clearly understands that. President Bush’s last-minute offshore drilling plan could have been written by oil industry executives. It was not based on science, was not subject to public review, did not consider the best interest of coastal communities, and ignored clean energy options. Revising this drilling plan is an important first step in getting our new energy economy on track.”
The U.S. Geological Survey, the Minerals Management Service, and other government scientists are directed to assemble all the information available on both conventional and renewable offshore resources, including the potential impacts of those resources. The report is due in 45 days.
From there the Interior Department will determine where the information gaps are and create a plan for gathering data to fill those gaps. The task of gathering and updating information is a formidable one – the Interior Department oversees more than 1.7 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf – but it is crucial for building a comprehensive energy plan that “takes us to the new energy frontier and secures our energy independence,” Salazar said. “We must embrace President Obama’s vision of energy independence for the sake of our national security, our economic security, and our environmental security.”
>>See also: California Rejects Offshore Drilling Plan
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