Thursday, April 01, 2010

Obama's offshore drilling not completely crazy, but....

My first reaction to Obama's unilateral concession to allow offshore drilling was the same as all the other envirobloggers:  "Wait, what?"  Maybe do it as part of a broader deal to protect the climate, but why give away a bargaining chip?

Due to my patience and prudence (aka, not getting around to blogging about it), I can now write something slightly different.  The second wave of analysis was that it's part of an executive branch group of activities that otherwise are beneficial, and more importantly that its intent is to reinvigorate climate/energy legislation, especially to bring oil-patch Democratic senators on board:
"The President has put forward his plans on offshore drilling after hearing from key Senators that it's a necessary step to succeed in passing climate and energy legislation in the Senate," reads a reluctantly supportive statement from the Environmental Defense Fund, which tends to take less of a hardline than other leading environmental groups.
This view was echoed to TPMDC by several Senate Democratic aides and environmental movement sources, both supportive and unsupportive of the move. But the Senators in question aren't by and large Republicans, whose votes will be needed to overcome an expected climate and energy filibuster. They're Democrats -- Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jim Webb (D-VA) -- who seek assurances that a comprehensive bill won't harm their state interests, and hope that new drilling will result in revenue for their states.
A Landrieu staffer tells TPMDC that while Landrieu's vote for a climate and energy bill will depend on its substance -- and its impact on Louisiana -- she views this as the removal of a major obstacle. "She's got a little more fire in her belly right now for energy and climate issues," the aide said. "What the President did -- he took a major stumbling block off the table ... without that I don't think it would've had any legs."

Yeah, okay, but why not "invigorate" the legislation by putting the decision to open up for drilling in the legislation itself?  One reason may be that the forces of inertia and stupid are so vast that they can demand this unilateral concession as the price of even thinking about doing something sane.  Or it could be a matter of control - who knows what craziness would result in the final legislation once you opened the potential for increased drilling, while Obama's decision at least has some geographic limits.  Or maybe it's just a mistake.  I don't know, but I don't think Obama's stupid, and I know that Environmental Defense Fund knows very well what the prospects are for a climate bill to get 60 votes in the Senate.

And on my third hand is the concern that the resulting legislation will overrule more-stringent legislation that is already happening in some states.  That's often the price you pay - industry gets a uniform national standard more stringent than they'd like, while the most-stringent state standards are relaxed - but you have to make sure the price is worth it.

Meanwhile, Senators Cantwell and Collins have a nice, clean, uncompromising cap-and-dividend bill that I support 100% unless it can't get 60 votes, in which (very likely) case we need to also be preparing to get into the mud.

UPDATE:  Fran has a good point in the comments that it's only exploratory drilling, so the store hasn't been given away yet.  Still, discoveries will create a lot of pressure for follow-on drilling, and it's still giving something away with nothing definite in return.  It'll be interesting to read the memoirs in a few years to find out what the inside story was for all this.

Unrelated note:  turning off comment moderation for recent posts, and we'll see how much of a spam problem we get.


  1. And while, like you I found the atmospherics dreadful, it's important to note that authority to explore and if viable drill is not the same as agreeing that drilling will in fact take place.

    The oil majors have many onshore places where they can drill but don't, presumably because it wouldn't be commercially viable to do so. The bar for offshore drilling is probably going to be even higher (since it is more costly to do in ways that would not put the onshore environment at risk) and in any event, if a serious carbon price gets into law and shapes the demand for oil accordingly, the bar will be higher still.

    So handing them this notional freebie doesn't really guarantee them anything of substance and as you say, forecloses a potential line of spurious objection.

  2. That's a good point about it being only exploratory drilling - I'll add a little update.

  3. Glad to catch up with your blog, Brian! I'm following offshore oil issues closely, since I was quite involved in helping to establish the Congressional moratorium that was annually renewed and that was then confirmed by a Presidential moratorium by both Bush Senior and Clinton.


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