Saturday, December 04, 2010

The US government has reaffirmed the oil and gas offshore drilling ban imposed after the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This move is a classic example of the "damned if you do; damned if you don't" trade-offs that face politicians and policymakers on difficult coastal and environmental issues such as this. (Oil rig image courtesy US Coast Guard)

"President Barack Obama's administration is to maintain a ban on off-shore oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and parts of the Atlantic coast. The decision reverses a plan to open up new areas announced by Mr Obama in the spring, just before the BP oil spill. Wednesday's move sparked protests from oil firms and their allies in Congress.

Announcing the ban, which will last until 2017, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar cited the need for "caution and focus" and stricter regulation. "Our revised strategy lays out a careful, responsible path for meeting our nation's energy needs while protecting our oceans and coastal communities," he said in a statement." source

Here are some comments supporting the ban from

"Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who has consistently pushed to restrict drilling in the eastern gulf, also welcomed the news.

"Drilling off Florida's Gulf Coast is banned at least until 2022 under a 2006 law passed by Sen. Nelson," Nelson spokesman Dan McLaughlin told The Washington Post this week. "The senator is pleased the White House has decided rightly to keep the area off-limits. He hopes Florida's next governor and the legislature similarly will commit to protecting the state's tourism economy and unique environment."

Activists such as Margie Alt, executive director of Environment America, also praised the administration's plan, saying, "Today anyone who loves our beaches, who fishes in the ocean or who depends on a healthy coastal economy can thank the Obama administration for protecting the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and the west coast of Florida from oil drilling. The BP disaster earlier this year was a tragic reminder that drilling is a dirty and dangerous business. The only way to truly keep our coasts and ocean ecosystems safe is to keep them rig-free."

The St Petersburg Times out it this way, " Obama's embrace of a drilling ban won't kill Florida jobs; it will save them. As the painful events of last summer illustrated, even a spill far from Florida shores kills jobs. Far more Floridians have been harmed financially by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill than the 1,000 to 2,500 new jobs the U.S. Minerals Management Service anticipated in Florida from expanded drilling in the eastern gulf." @

Opponents, of course, were equally vociferous about the decision. "This is an unfortunate decision that will eliminate badly needed government revenues, inhibit employment growth and increase reliance on imported energy," said Kenneth Cohen, vice president of public and government affairs at ExxonMobil Corp."

"The administration is sending a message to America's oil and gas industry: Take your capital, technology and jobs somewhere else," said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy.

The debate is classic - let private enterprise flourish so we can have jobs in the oil industry and get more oil and gas for the US economy vs. preserve the environment and protect the jobs in fishing, coral reefs, tourism, marine life (as a value in itself) and other areas that depend on safe, clean beaches and oceans.

As student of coastal policy the offshore oil and gas case study is an invaluable example of the myriad of interest groups that play off against each other, push, and pull on pubic opinion, policy makes (regulators), the federal executive branch, Congress, as well as state politics - the governors, the various state industries - those who do business with oil drilling and refining, those that are built on tourism and fishing - state legislatures, and state news media.

In Congress there are several "Iron Triangles" on this issue where congressional committees, lobbying groups, and government regulatory agencies interact with each other in support of policies on which all three "corners" of the triangle agree.

So fore example there is an "oil and gas" triangle consisting of the oil industry lobbyists, the department of Interior and Mineral Management Agency, and House and Senate committees that legislate oil and gas. These will often coordinate and agree on policies (say to expand offshore oila nd gas drilling) There is another triangle made up of environmental groups and non-oil industries affected by oil/gas exploration (and their lobbyists), the EPA, NOAA, and other parts of the Department of Interior and Congressional committees that legislate on the environment and have an interest on sustainable environmentally friendly policies/regulations.

These two "Iron Triangles" are often in conflict with each other. I am sure they are today over the new ban on oil and gas drilling.


Pat said...

Interesting point about the Iron Triangles. It will interesting to see how long the current legislation lasts with a new Governor coming in. Florida has a lot of environmental groups that are anti-drilling, but in the end- money talks.

Pat said...

Interesting point about the Iron Triangles. It will interesting to see how long the current legislation lasts with a new Governor coming in. Florida has a lot of environmental groups that are anti-drilling, but in the end- money talks.