Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Offshore drilling: new gift to Big Oil

By Kris Hamel
Published Apr 11, 2010 10:03 PM

President Barack Obama announced a new energy plan on March 31 that includes a huge new expansion of oil and natural gas drilling along the eastern, southern and Alaskan shores of the United States.

The announcement, made at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., signaled the end of a longstanding moratorium on offshore drilling on the Eastern seaboard. Some 167 million acres of ocean, from Delaware to mid-Florida, will be opened up for exploration and gas and oil extraction.

Open for oil company exploration and drilling from 2011 to 2017 will be new areas of coastal Virginia and other parts of the mid-Atlantic region, and two-thirds of the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. The plan includes viability studies for drilling in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. It will overturn a plan by former President George W. Bush to open for drilling Bristol Bay, Alaska — which provides about 40 percent of U.S. seafood. (latimes.com, March 31)

When shortly after Obama’s inauguration, his Interior Department retracted a Bush administration proposal for drilling from 2012 to 2017, this led to hope that the president was genuinely concerned about correcting serious environmental problems.

During his election campaign, however, Obama had several times publicly supported the “hard decision” to increase offshore drilling. And in his recent State of the Union address on Jan. 27, Obama said that weaning the country from imported oil would require “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”

This decision grants the big and still highly profitable oil corporations one of the biggest items on their wish list: access to the vast regions of the outer continental shelf for drilling. But environmental and conservation advocates and activists, as well as many residents of affected states, have widely denounced the plan, contending it will lead to an increase in oil spills and the destruction of fragile ecosystems.

Drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico has already “been strongly opposed by officials from both political parties in Alabama and Florida, who fear damage to coastlines, fisheries, popular beaches and wildlife. Interior Department officials said no wells would be allowed within 125 miles of the Florida and Alabama coasts, making them invisible from shore.” (New York Times, March 30)

Administration defies widespread opposition

Despite widespread opposition to increased offshore drilling from rank-and-file environmentalists and even Republican Party politicians in the affected areas, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar developed the administration’s plan after conducting four public meetings over the past year in Alaska, California, Louisiana and New Jersey.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune noted that “the oil industry already has access to drilling on millions of acres of America’s public lands and water. We don’t need to hand over our last protected pristine coastal areas just so oil companies can break more profit records.”

Greenpeace executive director Phil Radford, stated: “Is this President Obama’s clean energy plan or Palin’s drill-baby-drill campaign? While China and Germany are winning the clean energy race, this act furthers [the U.S.’s] addiction to oil. Expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change.” (Associated Press, April 1)

It appears that the exploitation of oceanic gas and oil reserves — despite the potential of increased environmental disaster and degradation — will yield only a limited supply of oil. While it may increase company profits in the short run, eventually “the wells dry up.”

Multibillionaire oil magnate T. Boone Pickens, the chair and CEO of PB Capital, said: “I heard some guy on TV said [the plan] accesses you to 14 billion barrels immediately. ... There’s not 14 billion barrels there to be accessed to. I would say that East Coast, Anwar [Alaska National Wildlife Reserve] and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, all added up, I would be surprised if you could get one to two million barrels a day out of it.

“ ... we’re importing daily 14 million barrels of oil and we’re producing seven in the United States. So, we’re importing two-thirds of what we use.

U.S. oil usage ‘unsustainable’

“And there’s 85 million barrels a day produced in the world every day, and we’re using 21 million barrels of that. So, we’re using 25 percent of all the oil with 4 percent of the population. I don’t think that’s sustainable.” (npr.org, April 3)

Environmental journalist David Roberts, the staff writer for grist.org, wrote, “According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there likely won’t be any oil from these new offshore areas until 2017, and full production won’t ramp up until 2030. Even when it does, it will produce some 100,000 new barrels a day — about 1/1,000 of total global supply.” (roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com, March 31)

Nevertheless, Obama appears to be using expanded offshore exploration as a bargaining chip in his administration’s attempts to enact sweeping legislation to curb both oil imports and greenhouse gas emissions. The only beneficiary of this policy is Big Oil, which continues to dominate the U.S. economy and political establishment.

If the new energy plan proves anything, it’s that it doesn’t matter which individual or which of the two big-business-controlled political parties sits in the White House. Obama’s concession to Big Oil and the Pentagon — the largest consumer of fossil fuels — made during a speech in front of military leaders and personnel as well as members of Obama’s “green team” and other politicians, means these forces are still firmly in charge of civilian life in the U.S.

Only an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle can truly stop and reverse environmental degradation, provide clean and renewable sources of energy, and put people back to work. It is either “people and the environment before profits” or “profits first.” There is no middle ground or solution within the confines of the profit-driven capitalist system, which has as its motor force the imperative to “expand or die.”
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