Hopes dashed: Obama's plan to expand US oil drilling causes controversy.

President Barack Obama has announced plans to expand oil drilling off the US east coast - in a reversal of his 2008 campaign strategy, when he argued that lifting curbs on offshore drilling would take years to have impact and would not provide sufficient extra energy to be justified. The decision has outraged many environmentalists and Obama supporters who have raised concerns about the threat to wildlife and ocean habitats that would be affected. The plan also diverts money towards unsustainable and dirty energy developments that will only contribute to accelerated climate change. Greenpeace USA Director Phil Radford was quoted by AFP and Reuters (The Star Online) in international news saying "While China and Germany are winning the clean energy race, this act furthers America's addiction to oil. Expanding offshore drilling in areas that have been protected for decades threatens our oceans and the coastal communities that depend on them with devastating oil spills, more pollution and climate change."

"Drill, Obama drill"

Part of a comprehensive energy plan, the decision would open up parts of the Atlantic coast, Alaska and offshore Florida to exploration. Reuters said it was Obama's latest effort to woo Republican legislators needed to pass a climate bill before mid-term elections in November. However, the move has angered environmentalists, while Republicans are still not happy, saying it does not go far enough.The UK's Independent quoted Obama saying "this is not a decision that I've made lightly. There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling," he added. "But what I want to emphasise is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on home-grown fuels and clean energy." Radford was quoted in response asking "is this President Obama's clean energy plan or Palin's 'Drill, baby, drill' campaign?"

All for five days worth of oil?

Considering the risks of development, it seems the decision is more about wining Congressional support than it is about energy security. The Minerals Management Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has estimated the lease area off Virginia can produce 130 million barrels of oil, or roughly 6.5 days worth for the nation, and 1.1 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to supply the country for 18 days. At less than a month worth of energy, it's not exactly a long-term strategy. Even NASA and the Department of Defense - who say part of the ocean to be opened up is crucial for rocket launching and navy training have voiced some resistance. Joe Bouchard, a former top navy official, wrote in a 2007 memo that the economic benefits of drilling are "exaggerated" and that the practice would have a "serious negative impact on U.S. national security." One article in The Chicago Tribune entitled "Oil drilling - a nasty national habit" said the policy was like "advocating a healthy diet based on fast food, speed and low-tar cigarettes."

After a bitter struggle to pass the US health care bill, Obama faces some tough challenges with the next item on the agenda: climate legislation. Domestic action in the US is widely seen as a linchpin for international negotiations over the urgent and accelerating threat of climate change. Today AP (Boston Globe) reported the UN's climate chief, Yvo de Boer, has said a new deal on climate change is unlikely to be reached before 2011. Meanwhile the Copenhagen Accord - the three-page agreement salvaged in the closing hours of the summit which set a goal of limiting global temperatures to less than a 2 degrees increase above pre-industrial levels - failed to specify how countries would do this. Currently, nations' voluntarily submitted emission reductions targets will result in a catastrophic 3 degree rise in temperature.

Photo: Steve Rhodes on Flickr.