Environmentalists and opponents of offshore oil and gas drilling are up for a fight regardless of the outcome of November's presidential election. Despite critical opposition, the possibility of drilling off the coast of the Atlantic is being discussed by both the Obama administration and the Romney campaign.
In the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed over two hundred million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration announced a new plan that closed the majority of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS)—including the Atlantic coast and eastern swaths of the Gulf of Mexico—to new oil and gas drilling through 2017. The policy specifically prohibited "new offshore drilling" and only allowed lease sales to occur in areas that were already open.
Now, two years after the disaster and barely a month away from his chance for re-election, the Obama administration appears to be charting new policies when it comes to offshore drilling.
Last month, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the federal government's plan for two major offshore leasing sales. One for the western Gulf of Mexico, scheduled for November of this year; and the second for the central Gulf in March of next 2013. As Salazar said in his announcement, “We are moving full speed ahead on the president’s all-of-the-above energy strategy because the exploration and development of the Gulf of Mexico’s vital energy resources will continue to help power our nation and drive our economy.”
And, in what was a more striking shift in policy, the administration announced earlier this year—for the first time in thirty years—that the mid- and south Atlantic coastlines may be open to high-intensity seismic exploration for oil and gas.
Following that decision, the National Resources Defense Council condemned the plan.
"To survey for oil and gas, industry uses powerful air guns that release intense sonic blasts through the water column, which disperse explosive sounds that travel thousands of miles," said NRDC. "The process disrupts the vocal behavior of endangered whales and threatens valuable commercial fish stocks."
Though the current plan is to keep the Atlantic and Pacific coasts off-limits for leasing and drilling for the next five years, the Obama administration has begun an environmental review process that could eventually lead to leasing these areas of the OCS. Opponents of offshore oil drilling call these tests a "gateway drug for drilling."
Not surprisingly, the Republican platform has less meandering path and more aggressive policy towards offshore drilling. The basis for Mitt Romney's energy plan can be found in the “Energy Blueprint for America,” put forth by the Republican Governors Public Policy Committee. The document calls for the lifting of all drilling bans in the Outer Continental Shelf and an immediate opening of the Virginia coastline to oil and gas development.
In reaction to his policy, Friends of the Earth criticized Romney saying, “Governor Romney developed the plan in close collaboration with the fat cat oil executives helping to bankroll his campaign, and it shows. They stand to profit while our communities stand to suffer from more fossil fuel industry pollution."
The Raleigh News Observer reports that Obama's plan may be a bit of a longshot: "Even if Atlantic is open to energy companies, production will not likely get underway for at least a decade. The energy Exploration cycle is heavily regulated and requires seismic testing, environmental assessments, oceanographic mapping, military reviews and other regulatory hurdles before any oil and gas can start flowing."
As for the future of the Atlantic Coastline under the either administration, the fight will continue for those who oppose offshore drilling in the pristine waters of the Atlantic coast.