Examiner Editorial: A muted cheer for Obama’s energy decision

President Barack Obama deserves credit for letting Virginia become the first state on the eastern seaboard to allow oil and natural gas exploration and production in the Outer Continental Shelf areas off its coast.

As Gov. Bob McDonnell said, the decision “will mean thousands of new jobs, hundreds of millions in new state revenue and tens of billions of dollars in economic impact for the commonwealth. It will also help our nation take a further step towards energy independence. Environmentally safe offshore energy exploration and production is good for Virginia workers, the Virginia economy and national security.”

But there is more — and less — to the latest Obama energy decision than simply opening up a significant portion of the continental shelf to tap the abundant new oil and natural gas resources that experts have said, for decades, can be safely located and produced. For one thing, Obama’s decision delays for another year — until 2012 — the day when development off Virginia’s coast can begin, four years after federal bans on such activities were lifted. Even so, at least Obama has set a date certain for taking a significant step toward liberating America from dependence on OPEC and Hugo Chavez for two-thirds of our energy needs. 

The problem with Obama’s decision is that it prevents far more of the continental shelf resources from being developed than it opens up. The Virginia decision is good, but Obama is only committing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to study the possibility of opening up the rest of the Atlantic continental shelf areas from Maryland to Georgia. Worse, Obama has effectively removed from exploration and development of the vast continental shelf oil and natural gas resources off the California coast and in areas of Alaska such as the Chukchi Sea.

As Daniel V. Kush of the Institute for Energy Research in an opinion piece at washingtonexaminer.com, the president’s decision has effectively banned finding and producing at least 10 billion barrels of oil in California coastal areas. Royalties from that oil could, according to physicist Bruce Allen, cut California’s oil imports by half and fund conversion to solar electricity for 20 million Americans. Estimates peg the available oil under Alaska’s Chukchi Sea at 77 million barrels, more than three times this nation’s current proven reserves and greater than those in Russia. Perhaps that’s why the only oil and natural gas exploration now being done in the Chukchi Sea region is by … Russia.

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