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Atlantic Offshore Drilling, We Hardly Knew Ya

President Obama, who not only signaled support for offshore drilling in his 2010 State of the Union address, but laid out a plan nine months ago to open up new areas in the Atlantic, isn't just backing off. His administration is in all out retreat. The Interior Department announced Wednesday it won't open up areas in the Atlantic and the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore drilling despite previous plans to do so.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar explains why in a statement:

As a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill we learned a number of lessons, most importantly that we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime. As that regime continues to be developed and implements, we have revised our initial March leasing strategy to focus and expend our critical resources on areas with leases that are currently active.
Yes, the Deepwater Horizon disaster April 20 that killed 11 workers on Transocean's rig and sent 4.9 million barrels of oil from BP's damaged Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, changed everything. But cut through the bureaucratese and Salazar also is essentially saying they don't have their regulatory act together.

Of course, this is of little consolation to the oil and gas industry, which has already responded via the American Petroleum Institute, that this "could result in the loss of tens of thousands of American jobs, billions less in government revenues and an increasing dependence on foreign energy sources."

So, what will happen once the feds get their regulatory ducks in a row? Nothing. The Atlantic waters offshore Virginia, which were slated for a lease sale in 2011, will not see oil and gas exploration at least through 2017. To be clear, opening up drilling offshore Virginia was no gamechanger. It was more symbolic than anything else.

The lease sale offshore Virgina would have marked the beginning of a new era in the Atlantic, waters where oil and gas development has been banned for decades. But there was never any certainty that companies would bother bidding on leases there. The Interior Department has estimated that area may contain 130 million barrels of oil and 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- a drop in the bucket compared to what lies in the Gulf of Mexico.

What's more troubling for the industry is what's happening to areas that the Interior maintains will remain open. Two leases sales planned for March and August 2011 for the central Gulf will be delayed so the Interior can conduct environment impact studies, the Times-Picayune reported Wednesday. And while the Interior said it will still consider development in the Cook Inlet, and the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas in the Arctic, it won't happen for some time, as the department conducts rigorous scientific analysis.

Photo from BP

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