Obama postpones Bush plan for offshore drilling

10 February 2009 22:25  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS news)--The administration of President Barack Obama on Tuesday postponed for six months action on an offshore oil and gas development plan issued by former President George Bush just days before he left office.

The postponement was quickly criticised by the US oil and gas development industry as an unnecessary delay in accessing needed domestic energy resources.

Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar announced on Tuesday a six-month extension of the public comment period for the new five-year offshore development plan issued by the Bush administration on 16 January.

The Bush development plan for the US outer continental shelf (OCS) regions was the first in nearly 30 years to include exploration proposals for the nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coastal regions.

Until late last year, those Atlantic and Pacific OCS areas had been closed to drilling under a 27-year-old congressional moratorium that expired on 1 October. The moratorium's end was hailed by chemical producers.

The US petrochemicals industry - which is heavily dependent on natgas as a feedstock and energy fuel - and a broad array of other manufacturers had pressed Congress for years to lift the offshore drilling ban.

In announcing the six-month extension for public comment, Salazar said that the Obama administration needs to “set aside the Bush administration’s midnight timetable for its OCS drilling plan and create our own timeline”.

In addition to extending the public comment period to late September this year, Salazar said he will hold four public hearings in coastal communities.

He also directed the US Geological Survey (USGS) and the department’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) to assemble in 45 days all available information about conventional and renewable offshore energy resources along with developmental impact studies.

He said that based on the 45-day resources report, it may be necessary to spend more time determining what energy assets are in the OCS regions.

The OCS areas on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts have not been surveyed since the late 1970s, before the advent of modern three-dimensional subsea seismic technology.

Salazar said he wants to include renewable resources such as wind, wave and current energy in offshore development plans going forward, allowing “us to move from the ‘oil and gas only’ approach of the previous administration”.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), whose member firms account for 90% of US oil and gas drilling development, said it was “disappointed by the Obama administration’s decision to delay moving forward on domestic energy development - especially at a time when our economy is struggling”.

“This unnecessary delay will hold America back at the precise moment when we need to move forward the most,” the association said.

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By: Joe Kamalick
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