During the 2008 presidential campaign, with voters concerned about high gas prices, Republicans made “drill, baby, drill!” into a rallying cry. It wasn’t enough to keep Barack Obama from the White House — but now that he’s there, Obama will be heeding that call. His administration plans to end a longstanding moratorium on offshore oil drilling and open up large swaths off the U.S. coastline for exploration.
Under the administration’s plan, which has not yet been officially announced but which was detailed for reporters from multiple outlets, 167 million acres of the Atlantic coast, from Delaware to Florida, would be opened. So would another roughly 130 million acres in the Arctic Ocean, and areas in the Gulf of Mexico. The Pacific coast would remain closed to drilling, as would environmentally sensitive areas like Bristol Bay in Alaska, where the Bush administration had wanted to allow exploration.
The politics of this could prove difficult for the White House. Republicans should love it, but there will no doubt be complaints about those areas kept closed, and in an election year where the GOP has effectively decided to oppose just about everything the president proposes, there’s going to be some reluctance to embrace this. Democrats — especially those from affected areas — are going to be wary, especially as environmental groups will oppose the move. The fact that this sort of drilling won’t begin to show results for years won’t help on that score.
The administration is already working to remind everyone that this is not a new idea from Obama, who’s long been open to the idea of drilling, even if his vision is more limited than the GOP’s. Among other examples, the president mentioned drilling favorably in his State of the Union address this year.