By Peter Roff, the Thomas Jefferson Street blog
President Barack Obama is announced today that the United States is getting back into the offshore energy exploration business. But before everyone gets excited about it, there appears to be a lot less to Obama's announcement than meets the eye.
According to energy policy analyst James Lucier of Capital Alpha Partners LLC, Obama's announcement is not only in line with expectations, it is the same announcement that everyone was expecting Interior Secretary Ken Salazar--who has not been friendly to the idea of energy exploration off the American coastline--to make when the president didn't need to moderate the radical environmental image his support for the "cap-and-trade" energy tax process created.
"In a macro sense, the president's announcements do not reflect new policy. Expanded leasing of offshore acreage proceeds naturally," Lucier says, "from the Congressional decision to end the offshore leasing moratorium in 2008." That decision, it is worth pointing out, was prompted by a spike in domestic energy costs that pushed the price of gasoline north of $4 per gallon. The ban on offshore energy exploration, which had been introduced in a frenzy of environmental activity decades earlier, had simply become too expensive to be allowed to remain in force, something even the Democrats recognized.
Obama's announcementis, according to Lucier's prescient analysis, "less about drilling than about building support for the President's broader clean energy and climate plan."
Most importantly, despite the apparent approval of lease sales off the coast of Virginia, the prospect of expanded exploration in Alaska takes another hit. "In a disappointment," Lucier says, "lease sales in the highly-prospective areas of Bristol Bay, the Chukchi, and the Beaufort Seas will be canceled."
"Also, leasing in areas of the eastern Gulf currently under moratorium will be formally proposed. This is the area most eagerly and urgently desired by oil and gas developers," he says, adding that what Obama is announcing is largely in line with what the Senate Energy Committee has already approved.
The Obama announcement is something less than a bold step forward or a change in the Democrat's historic position, no matter how the White House will present it. In fact, it does not even quite reach the level of a toe dipped timidly in a warm bath.