White House hits reverse on off-shore drilling after Gulf spill

posted at 2:55 pm on April 30, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

I’d borrow the AP’s favorite adverb on economic data, but this is so completely not unexpected that this development probably won’t get much play otherwise.  Facing a backlash on the Left already over his mildly encouraging earlier statement on offshore drilling, the White House moved quickly to assure everyone after the ongoing Gulf of Mexico spill that Barack Obama only meant that in the hypothetical sense. David Axelrod made the obligatory backpedal on Good Morning America today:

In Rose Garden remarks meant to showcase the improving economy, Obama pivoted to talk about the oil rig explosion. Arguing that oil company BP is ultimately responsible, Obama said he continues to support oil drilling as part of an energy package, “but I’ve always said it must be done responsibly, for the safety of our workers and our environment.”

Pressed to explain the apparent presidential turn-about, White House adviser David Axelrod said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” “All he has said is that he is not going to continue the moratorium” on drilling. As for moving forward, he added, “No additional drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here.”

“Obama’s Katrina”? So far, it’s not even Obama’s Exxon Valdez. The government has responded reasonably well, but it’s going to be up to the oil company to get this under control. Other than the eleven workers who died in the April 20th explosion, there has been no other loss of life, nor does it threaten to lay waste to entire urban populations.  It’s important for conservatives to remember that the oil company has the responsibility of cleaning up its mess.

While off-shore drilling does entail risks, it’s also noteworthy that this has been the first major spill in decades, even in the Gulf, where drilling has continued while government declared the outer continental shelf off limits. That hasn’t stopped the hysterical reaction, however:

The accident in the gulf may provide more firepower for the critics on the left who for years have lobbied presidents and Congress to keep in place federal moratoriums on further offshore exploration. Those moratoriums have expired.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) called on Obama to step back from his expanded offshore drilling plans. In a letter to the president, Nelson said he would file legislation to ban the Interior Department from following through on Obama’s proposal for new seismic and drilling activity. He said the gulf spill “may be an environmental and economic disaster that wreaks havoc for commercial fishing and tourism along the Gulf of Mexico coast.”

Dan McLaughlin, a top aide to Nelson, said it was too early to say whether the federal government had responded adequately to what he called “our worst nightmare come true.” But McLaughlin asked why the government had not done more to ensure that the oil companies could shut down a well if a catastrophic failure happened. “Somebody is going to have to ask the question as to why the regulators didn’t put this question to the industry before?” McLaughlin said. “If everything fails, then what?”

The US needs to investigate how this could have been prevented and implement any necessary changes. It doesn’t change the fact that we still need oil, and we’re much better off getting our own resources rather than inflating the profits of kleptocrats and radical regimes around the world by refusing to touch our own reserves. If Washington and the media manage to maintain some rational perspective on this, though, that would be most unexpected.

Update (AP): Ace has an excellent, albeit depressing, post on the retail politics of this issue too. Quote:

The Exxon Valdez disaster ushered in a new, bad era of restrictivist energy policy, and higher-than-it-ought-to-be dependence on Middle East oil, and just as we’re finally getting past that, oh, look, dead otters.

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

Of course, the Valdez disaster was due to transhipment of oil, which our zero-new-production policy will cause more of, and thus more spills in the shipping process, but the Stupid Segment of the public has a memory only extending back a few months, so now, shipping oil is the greatest thing (until we can all get our solar on, at least) and domestic drilling is just awful so by all means let’s continue increasing the portion of oil we get from Iran. (And we do get it from Iran — these commodities are fungible, after all. If we don’t get it from Iran, that’s just because China is buying our portion of Iran’s oil at a slight discount. On the net, it’s just like we’re paying for Iran’s oil any way you slice it.)…

[A] lot of our representatives will now run away from pushing back against this bleak future of ever-escalating energy prices and resultant diminishment of prosperity and opportunity, and, we might rage against them for that, but you know what? What can they do? They can only go forward if we have their backs, politically, and while we do have their backs, about one-third of their necessary level of public support just peeled off from them (Think of the otters), and so they now have to choose between doing the right and winning and election, except that’s not even really the choice, because they can’t do the right thing if they’re not elected in the first place.

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