Drill of a Lifetime: Five Facts Before You Decide on Obama's Offshore Plan

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Obama announcing the offshore drilling plan. At right, a rig in the Black Sea. Photos: Reuters

A new plan that was kept underground by the nation’s leaders will also take place beneath the Earth’s surface—but how will offshore drilling affect those of us above ground?  President Obama’s new offshore drilling plan has already strirred up controversy, splitting opinions on what Obama calls "some tough decisions.”  While the energy industry rejoices, environmentalists are shaking their fists in fury. Before you take sides, here are five things to consider.

1) We’ve been drilling offshore for years. 

The state of Louisiana has been drilling offshore since 1947 and currently rakes in about $1.5 billion annually from these operations. In 2009, the state had a total of 1,365 drilling permits, 12 of which were allotted for offshore drilling.

Despite the potentially devastating environmental impacts of offshore drilling, such as habitat destruction, "It's absolutely worth it," according to Garret Graves, head of the Louisiana Governor's Office of Coastal Activities.  

2) It will be a decade before we get the gas.

Even if drilling were to start tomorrow, experts say it would be up to 14 years before consumers can pump that gas at a station. Even then, many wonder how much of a difference domestic oil would have on price. The oil market is a global one; so even if the U.S. has more of it, prices will still be driven by the international supply. According to a 2004 Time magazine study, domestic drilling would decrease costs by 3.5 cents by 2027.        

Each year the U.S. imports approximately two billion barrels of oil from OPEC nations. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates no more than four billion barrels of oil are available off the Atlantic coast. That means we might curb the amount of oil we import, but not for long. 

3) Drilling will not be permitted everywhere.

The new plan would enable oil to be drilled along the Atlantic Coast, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Northern coast of Alaska.  Drilling would still be prohibited along the Pacific Coast, which is good news for residents of Santa Barbara, California, where a 1969 oil spill still evokes strong emotions. “It all just made us deeply aware of our environment,” Marty Blum, the former mayor of the city said in a 2008 Newsweek article. “I saw grown men crying as they looked at the black cliffs, the tar on the beaches, the dead and dying mammals and birds.”

Another protected area is Bristol Bay. Located in Alaska on the coast of the Bering Sea, Bristol Bay provides 40 percent of the nation’s seafood supply. 

4) Where there is drilling, the chance of environmental impact looms.

President Obama addressed environmentalists in his announcement Wednesday morning by ensuring them that the government will “employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration. ... We’ll protect areas that are vital to tourism, the environment, and our national security.”  

Despite promises to minimize the impact of offshore oil drilling, some are wary. “Offshore drilling creates a new pollution source, one capable of significant, even devastating environmental damage from drilling, transportation, storage, or refinement,” says Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Chesapeake Bay is located on the Atlantic Coast and would be affected by the new plan.    

While presenting this controversial issue, President Obama noted his long-term dedication to discovering more clean energy options: "For the sake of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now."

5) The plan will create more than a million new jobs.

Drilling for oil along U.S. shores would generate jobs that could not be outsourced. The American Energy Alliance released a study that estimates 1.2 million new jobs will be created because of offshore drilling. The oil industry already provides jobs for more than 9 million American workers. 

Opponents of the plan say more jobs would be created if efforts focused on “clean technology,” such as wind and solar energy. A study from the University of Massachusetts found that nearly three times as many jobs, paying at least $16 per hour, would be created if the government turned its attention to “green economic recovery” instead of investing the same amount of money into the oil industry.       

The plan still needs Congressional approval.


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