‘Comprehensive’ energy proposal bears watching

Freedom New Mexico

Although the devil is always in the details, President Barack Obama is to be commended for proposing to reopen a limited amount of the nation’s Outer Continental Shelf for exploration, analysis, leasing and possible oil and gas drilling in the next few years. He has already taken a good deal of grief for his stance from people for whom opposition to any petroleum drilling is akin to a religion. Even though he mentioned the possibility during the campaign and in this year’s State of the Union message, he deserves credit for following through.

That said, even if the administration pursues the policy aggressively, it will be years before substantial amounts of oil and natural gas start flowing. Only one tract off the coast of Virginia that had been previously approved but held up by a court challenge is likely to be up for lease as soon as next year. In most of the rest of the Atlantic coast south of Virginia only exploratory studies will be allowed soon. A tract in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, adjacent to a tract already studded with drilling platforms, could come on line relatively quickly.

Beyond extensive seismic studies, of course, we can expect lawsuits filed at every level of government, which might not prevent drilling in the long run, but will delay production. And then there’s the suspicion that the president only floated this proposal to gain support for other more comprehensive aspects of what he views as a “comprehensive” energy policy including a carbon-reducing cap-and-trade system and heavy subsidies for alternative fuels like wind, solar and biofuels.

We will know the president is serious about increasing domestic energy supplies if he is willing to allow offshore drilling to be considered separately, on its own merits. If he insists on folding it into a “comprehensive” energy proposal, it will be obvious that the proposal is merely window dressing.