WASHINGTON- Calling it a "headlong rush of the worst kind," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today scrapped a Bush administration proposal to open up as many as 300 million acres off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to oil and gas drilling.
Salazar set aside a March 23 deadline for the public to weigh in on the Bush-era draft plan and said the Obama administration would instead wait until September to decide whether to expand U.S. offshore drilling.
"The additional time we are providing will give states, stakeholders, and affected communities the opportunity to provide input on the future of our offshore areas," Salazar said in a news conference. "The additional time will allow us to restore an orderly process to our offshore energy planning."
Salazar said he was launching a comprehensive review of offshore resources by the Interior Department, which oversees oil and gas drilling on public lands, including 1.7 billion acres on the outer continental shelf. He also promised to conduct four meetings with stakeholders in Alaska, on the Pacific Coast, the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast before making a final decision on offshore drilling.
George W. Bush's draft proposal, which would govern drilling on the outer continental shelf from 2010 to 2015, was unveiled Jan. 16, just days before Bush left the White House.
Salazar said the delay represented a "dramatic change from the last eight years, where you had a one-road highway to energy independence, which was drill, drill, drill."
Salazar's move drew quick criticism from oil and gas developers, who said it was unnecessary in the face of what they say is strong public support for expanded drilling in coastal waters.
"The American people understand the imperative of producing more of our energy resources right here at home," said Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. "We need to act quickly and aggressively to develop domestic energy resources that could provide energy, jobs and needed revenues for states. This unnecessary delay will hold America back."
Salazar sought to assuage oil and gas producers, pledging that the industry will be part of the debate over expanding offshore drilling.
"The oil and gas industry should not see the Obama administration as their enemy," Salazar said.
"We need (their) expertise and resources as we move forward, but we need to be honest about our energy future," he said. "A drill-only approach onshore and offshore is not enough. We need a comprehensive energy plan."