Could Oil Spill Impact Future of U.S. Offshore Drilling?
    2010-05-08 04:10:44     Xinhua      Web Editor: Qin Mei

As U.S. authorities scramble to respond to the massive oil spill caused by an oil rig 40 miles off the Louisiana coast, it remains unknown whether the spill will affect future plans for offshore drilling.

One month ago, U.S. President Barack Obama called for new offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to central Florida, plus the northern waters of Alaska. Since the accident, the president has reiterated his support for oil drilling off U.S. coastlines, but that view is coming under fire, and some officials have already changed their tune toward offshore drilling.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday backed out of supporting a plan to permit new offshore drilling in a controversial move applauded by environmentalists but blasted by opponents who cited the state's need for jobs.

Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson also said he would not support Obama's recent proposal to increase drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.

And while state lawmakers in Florida are considering a proposal to drill in new offshore areas, state Governor Charlie Crist recently came out against it.

Greenpeace, an environmental group, criticized President Obama after his recent announcement that there will be no expansion of offshore drilling until investigations into the disaster are complete. "The president's announcement today, while a welcome first step, does not go nearly far enough. The only way to prevent human, economic and environmental tragedies like the BP Deepwater Disaster is to re-enact the moratorium on offshore drilling and to replace dirty dangerous fuels with clean energy," said Philip Radford, executive director of Greenpeace, in a statement.

The spill in the Gulf of Mexico prompted speculation over the possible fallout if a similar incident occurred in the Arctic Ocean.

"If we cannot handle a spill in the Gulf of Mexico, imagine the impact even a small spill could have in the remote, pristine waters of the Arctic," Radford said.

In spite of such criticism, Senator Joseph Lieberman said in an interview with the National Journal that the accident would not halt plans to push for offshore drilling.

The senator said accidents can happen and serve as learning experiences to make sure such mishaps do not re-occur.

Ben Lieberman, senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said that the full impact of the spill will remain unknown until an investigation is completed, but noted that this was the first major offshore oil spill since the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident. That spill poured more than an estimated 10 million gallons of crude oil into the waters off the coast of Alaska.

There are 4,000 offshore wells and the safety record has been relatively good, in spite of this incident, he said.

"That's not to say we shouldn't implement additional safeguards, " he added.

Adele Morris, fellow and policy director for climate and energy economics at the Brookings Institution think tank, said the " deepwater" technology employed by the oil rig that caused the massive spill is relatively new, and clearly the safety procedures weren't adequate, she said.

Now the question arises how this disaster affects the prospects of climate legislation, she said. Congressional Democrats planned to buy Republican votes for a climate bill with provisions to expand domestic oil production.

"It was always tricky to get the votes necessary but now one of the strategies to get those votes has become increasingly untenable for Democrats," she said.

Proponents of offshore drilling argue that the United States should not be dependent on "foreign oil" and that harnessing U.S. energy oil would create jobs at a time of economic downturn. Opponents contend that the practice is harmful to the environment, citing the massive spill as an example of what could happen if offshore drilling is expanded.

A recent Fox News poll taken on Tuesday and Wednesday found that support for offshore drilling has slid somewhat since the incident. Sixty percent of respondents said they favored the activity, while 33 percent opposed it. The numbers represent a drop from the previous month, in which 70 percent stood in favor of drilling off U.S. coasts and 22 percent were against it.

Meanwhile, oil continued to gush into the ocean on Friday as authorities worked on deploying a "containment dome" to be lowered nearly one mile to the ocean floor to plug the leak.


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