Obama Backtracks on Atlantic Oil Drilling Proposal

(New York Times) – The Obama administration is expected to withdraw its plan to permit oiland gas drilling off the southeast Atlantic coast, yielding to an outpouring of opposition from coastal communities from Virginia to Georgia but dashing the hopes and expectations of many of those states’ top leaders.

The announcement by the Interior Department, which is seen as surprising, could come as soon as Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the decision who was not authorized to speak on the record because the plan had not been publicly disclosed.

The decision represents a reversal of President Obama’s previous offshore drilling plans, and comes as he is trying to build an ambitious environmental legacy. It could also inject the issue into the 2016 presidential campaigns, as Republican candidates vow to expand drilling.

The offshore drilling proposal, which was still in draft form and was not to be finalized until later this year, provoked a backlash from coastal communities including Norfolk, Va., which supports the world’s largest naval base; Charleston, S.C.; and tiny tourist towns around Myrtle Beach, S.C., and on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Over 106 of those coastal cities and towns signed resolutions asking Mr. Obama to shut down plans for new drilling.

Both environmental groups and the oil industry have spent the last several months lobbying in town halls and statehouses throughout the Southeast.

Environmental groups and many coastal residents fear that opening the Atlantic to drilling could lead to a repeat of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 people and sent millions of gallons of oil to the shores of nearby coastal states.

The Interior Department estimates there are 3.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil on the Atlantic’s outer continental shelf and 31.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Energy industry experts say the reserves may be far greater.

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