WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has rejected a Bush administration plan to open vast waters off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts to oil and gas drilling, promising “a new way forward” in offshore energy development including new wind projects.
At a news conference Tuesday, Salazar criticized “the midnight timetable” for new oil and gas development on the country’s Outer Continental Shelf proposed by the Bush administration four days before President Barack Obama took office Jan. 20.
The secretary said the previous administration’s plan did not take into consideration the views of states and coastal communities, nor a need to better understand what energy resources are at stake.
“We need to … restore an orderly process to our offshore energy planning program,” declared Salazar, criticizing “foot dragging” by the Bush administration in pushing for renewable energy development in coastal waters.
Salazar did not rule out expanded offshore drilling but criticized “the enormous sweep” of the Bush proposal, which envisioned energy development from New England to Alaska including lease sales in areas that have been off-limits for a quarter century.
Congress last fall ended the broad drilling ban, dating to 1981, that has kept energy companies from exploring or conducting seismic studies across 85 percent of the offshore federal waters.
But it remains up to the Interior Department to issue specific plans for drilling leases. And Salazar indicated Tuesday he is in no rush to open vast expanses of long-protected waters, promising “to create our own timetable.”
Salazar directed Interior Department scientists to produce new reports on how much oil and gas might be found off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and extended the public comment period on a new five-year leasing plan to September. He said he will hold regional meetings to get comments from the public before continuing with an offshore energy plan.
Salazar promised to move aggressively to complete a new regulation on offshore renewable energy programs including wind, solar and wave energy projects.
His announcement was hailed by environmentalists and some drilling opponents in Congress. But Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the large oil companies, said Salazar’s announcement “means that development of our offshore resources could be stalled indefinitely.”
The Associated Press