Interior Department

Post image for The President’s Wacky Oil Plan

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the President’s energy speech yesterday. I get the goal: Reduce oil imports 30 percent in a decade. But what I don’t get, at all, is the plan to achieve that goal. The President’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future” doesn’t make any sense.

Consider, for example, his “Blueprint” for oil. It’s all over the place.

In the beginning of the speech, the President mocked the idea of “drill, baby, drill.” He said,

“We’ve been down this road before. Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon…It hit a lot of people pretty hard. But it was at the height of the political season, so you had a lot of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians waving three point plans for two dollar gas—you remember ‘drill, baby, drill?’—when none of it would really do anything to solve the problem. Imagine that in Washington.”

So, the President believes that “drill, baby, drill” would not “do anything to solve the problem.” Yet only moments later, he seemed to change his mind. He told the audience,

“Meeting this new goal of cutting our oil dependence depends largely on two things: finding and producing more oil at home, and reducing our dependence on oil with cleaner alternative fuels and greater efficiency.”

So, the President believes that “meeting this new goal…depends largely on…finding more oil at home.” But “finding more oil” necessarily requires more drilling. How is this different from “drill, baby, drill,” which the President only moments before had denigrated?

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Obama’s Offshore Flip-Flop

by Myron Ebell on December 4, 2010

The Department of the Interior this week announced that its 2012-17 five-year plan for leasing tracts for offshore oil and gas exploration would place the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf coasts off limits. In addition, Interior announced that the go-slow policy for Alaska offshore leasing would continue.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar used BP’s Gulf oil leak as justification for reversing the policy that President Obama announced in March.  Here is what CEI said in its press release responding to Interior’s announcement: “Obama Offshore Oil Moratorium Breaks Promise, Hurts Economy, Kills Jobs.” Tom Pyle of the Institute for Energy Research made similar comments.  Even Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, was critical.

There has been a technological revolution in the natural gas industry over the last decade. In that time, a drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has become economically viable, thereby allowing for the exploitation of huge natural gas reserves that had been too expensive to recover. As a result, America’s natural gas supply has roughly doubled.

In his post-election address last Wednesday, President Barack Obama indicated support for the fracking revolution. His administration’s record, however, is decidedly mixed on the issue.

On the one hand, the State Department is a big proponent of the technology, which it sees as a long term deterrent for Russia. As I’ve noted elsewhere, environmentalist policies in some European countries-but especially Germany-have rendered them increasingly reliant on Russian natural gas, even as Russia has proven willing to use its energy resources as a geopolitical bargaining chip. By exporting the fracking revolution to continental Europe, the State Department hopes to weaken Russia’s influence.

Moreover, Obama’s EPA has kept away from regulating fracking, although it easily could. Indeed, with the Clean Water Act precedent set by the its assault on mountain top removal mining, the EPA could shut down whatever industry it wants to in all of Appalachia, which is home to the largest and most promising natural gas resources made available by fracking-the Marcelus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York.

On the other hand, different agencies within the Obama administration are cracking down on fracking. The Bureau for Land Management (within the Department of the Interior), for example, refuses to grant leases to drill natural gas along the Rocky Mountains. Under a new Interior Department instruction memo for implementing the 1987 Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Act, the BLM can (and is) withholding scores of millions of dollars of leases, pending completion of National Environmental Protection Act litigation. Contemporaneously, the Council of Environmental Quality is making NEPA challenges even easier.

So what to make of these conflicting signals? At first I thought that Obama saw himself as a visionary problem solver, and that his vision was to address supposed global warming by embracing gas at the expense of coal. Now, I’m not so sure. It looks like he’s being jerked around by people who know better how the executive branch works.