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Obama to open Atlantic to drilling

The Obama administration is expected to open the Atlantic Ocean to oil drilling on Tuesday, according to people familiar with the planning and a draft map viewed by McClatchy.

The proposal appears to allow drilling in areas off Virginia and the Carolinas, while excluding Florida, Maryland and Delaware. The Interior Department is expected to release details of the five-year lease plan, covering 2017 to 2022, on Tuesday afternoon and isn’t commenting on the specifics in the meantime.

It would mark the first time in decades that oil drilling is allowed off the East Coast, and is sure to be highly controversial. The decision does not require Congressional approval but Charles Ebinger, a senior fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Initiative at the Brookings Institution, said he expects court battles and environmental groups file lawsuits over the plan.

"It will be a battle royale," Ebinber said.

The oil and gas industry will also have reason to complain. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said the plan is going to exclude drilling in parts of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the Arctic coast of Alaska.

The oil industry has pushed hard to open the Atlantic Ocean to drilling, but it’s not clear how much oil and gas is out there.

The federal government estimates 3.3 billion barrels of oil and 31.28 trillion cubic feet of natural gas along the entire Atlantic seabed. That’s hardly the makings of a boom, and is nine times smaller than estimated oil reserves off the Arctic coast of Alaska if the number are right.

But those estimates date from the 1970s and 1980s and industry and other drilling supports consider them too low. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said the data "was developed using technologies that are obsolete."

The Obama administration has approved seismic testing to get a better idea of how much oil and gas lies beneath the ocean.

The governors of North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have all called for drilling off their coasts, but it’s controversial in coastal communities in those states, many of whom rely on tourism for revenue.

Published on:
January 27, 2015
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