Editorial: We still must drill offshore



BOSTON, MASS — Getting used to $1.90 gasoline after all those months last year of the $4 stuff, are you? Enjoy it while you can.

The Obama administration has thrown up hurdles to opening promising offshore areas to oil and gas exploration.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, extending for six months the deadline for public comment on the Bush administration’s draft five-year offshore exploration plan, complained that, among other things, his predecessor neglected renewable offshore resources like wind and tidal power and was proceeding without adequate resource estimates or public comment.

Exploratory drilling in most federal waters off the lower 48 states had been banned since 1981 by Congress and the first President Bush. Last year, a year of record oil prices, President George W. Bush and Congress let the prohibitions lapse.

The secretary did not call for renewal of the bans and Congress seems unlikely to restore them. A possible sale of natural gas leases off the Virginia coast in 2011, allowable under the current plan, appears on track. But Salazar’s new procedures, including public meetings he himself will chair, make possible delay, delay and more delay.

Offshore oil exploration and production do not interfere with other worthy ventures such as windmills, which would displace practically no oil demand anyway.

Mountains of public comment accumulated in 27 years, and mountains of resource information already are available. Using data from the Minerals Management Service, part of the Interior Department, the American Petroleum Institute estimates that the lower 48 waters hold a 2.5-year supply of crude oil and 3.4 years of natural gas.

The best way to get better estimates is to set aside unreasonable environmental fears and drill exploratory wells now.




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