Posted December 3, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Retreat on drilling

Stung by the fallout, political and environmental, from the massive Gulf oil spill, the Obama administration has rescinded its plan to expand offshore oil exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a moratorium of at least seven years while stronger environmental and safety regulations are implemented.

While the reversal was welcomed by environmentalists and politicians concerned about the risks of opening new areas to drilling, it was greeted with dismay by energy advocates, including Gov. Bob McDonnell, who had counted on revenue from oil and gas leases to fund state transportation projects.

President Obama last spring announced plans to open new areas to energy exploration and possible drilling as part of a gambit to gain Republican support for comprehensive energy and climate change legislation. But that notion unraveled with the massive BP oil spill, which belied Obama's claims that the oil industry had developed the technology to minimize the dangers from spills. The environmental disaster in the Gulf also dramatized the laxness and ineptitude of the government agencies with the responsibility of monitoring and regulating drilling operations.

Although petroleum companies continue to view the eastern Gulf and the Atlantic seaboard as potentially worthwhile sites for exploration, they and the government are proceeding slowly in the wake of the spill.

It's understandable that the administration would backtrack on drilling initiatives in the aftermath of the Gulf spill and place heightened emphasis on safety and environmental safeguards.

Yet those concerns should not take seven years to address. A shorter moratorium seems more justified.

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