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By Lloyd McGraw on Feb 17, 2010 with no responses

New Report Adds Fuel to the Offshore Drilling Debate

President Barack Obama is facing pressure from environmental groups and the oil and gas industry on the issue of offshore drilling.

The hot issue of offshore drilling for oil and gas deposits is forcing the Obama Administration to walk a fine line between encouraging economic growth and preserving the environment.

Days after environmentalists conducted an anti-offshore drilling protest in South Beach, Florida labeled “Hands Across the Sand” a new study placed a price tag on acquiescing to their proposed drilling moratorium – a hefty $2.4 trillion. That is the cost that maintaining the status quo will have on the U.S. economy over the next two decades according to a recent study.

The report, prepared for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, also said that without access to the energy resources, foreign imports of crude oil, petroleum products and natural gas would increase by $1.6 trillion over that period. Additionally, the United States is expected to pay the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) $607 billion for an extra 4.1 billion barrels of crude, the report said.

“We encourage lawmakers to heed the results of this study and take a closer look at the energy-rich areas in our country that are currently off limits.” said David Parker, president of the American Gas Association. “It’s clear from this report that the status quo on energy production simply won’t suffice.”

Encouragingly, the report claims that the level of untapped domestic oil hidden beneath protected areas has been underestimated by approximately 43 billion barrels. If the report is accurate, there are 229 billion barrels available, enough to support the United States at its current consumption levels for 50 years. Estimations of available natural gas were bumped by 286 trillion cubic feet to 2,034 trillion cubic feet.

Environmentalists however remain skeptical of permitting drilling in any new areas.  Much of the disputed territory received federal protection by statute twenty seven years ago.  During the final year of his presidency, amid a recession that was partially the result of an oil crisis, George W. Bush began easing back restrictions in most U.S. waters beyond the western and central Gulf of Mexico ended in 2008.  The Interior Department is now considering whether to expand exploration in only a small part of the formerly closed areas.

The White House faces pressure from environmental groups who feel the United States should rely less on oil and gas and more on cleaner energy sources like wind and solar. President Obama hinted at his ambivalence on this hot topic in his recent State of the Union address.  While the President pressed for increasing reliance on renewable energy he would not commit to maintaining a moratorium on drilling in areas that have been protected for over two and a half decades.  Quite the contrary, the President preceded his call for profitable green energy by referring to “tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.” His conflicting remarks left advocates on both sides bewildered.

Perhaps it was the President’s straddling that motivated environmentalists to make a demonstrative protest on Florida’s beaches this past weekend. As part of a statewide show of support to continue banning offshore drilling, protesters created a human chain for the “Hands Across the Sand”.

Promotions for anti-drilling protests began popping up around Florida shortly after the President delivered his first State of the Union of the Address.

“There has been a ban and a moratorium on new offshore drilling for years,” said organizer Andrea Cuccaro. “It’s not going to help us with prices for oil in the near term, and we have a lot of solutions like solar and wind power that are really great solutions that we can give more incentives and tax breaks.”

To environmentalists like Cuccaro, President Obama is reneging on a major element of his campaign platform by not being a steadfastly staunch supporter of the environment.  Despite the fact that drilling would be three miles from the coastline, eco-enthusiasts have concerns about the long term impacts of offshore drilling.  Some Florida politicians are concerned that drilling could threaten the State’s economy by hurting its tourism.