President Obama's decision to open up vast tracts of ocean off the Atlantic coast and eastern Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling is making big waves. What's most interesting is that after eight years of George Bush and Dick Cheney, it's the Democrats who will end up lifting a longstanding moratorium on exploration off the East Coast.
This has pretty much been issue No. 1 for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for the last year. Recently, Blue Dog Democrats have stepped up their lobbying efforts to increase offshore drilling. In January, Virginia Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner wrote to Salazar, urging him to expedite the process. Of all the East Coast states, Virginia stands to gain the most economically from the decision, which could be a big win for the state's new Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and his push to make Virginia "the Energy Capital of the East Coast."
The move certainly has political ramifications for Obama. He'll score big points with Big Oil but anger much of the environmental left. What it really does though is underscore just how serious Obama is about reducing America's dependence on foreign oil, which last year accounted for more than half of the 18.6 million barrels we consumed each day.
If you've been listening to the president recently, the move shouldn't come as a surprise. In his State of the Union address, he essentially made the case that domestic drilling is a necessary bridge to a clean energy future, referencing the "tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development." Even so, the Huffington Post was quick this morning to paint him as flip-flopping on the issue by posting a 2008 campaign video of Obama arguing against offshore drilling.
Earlier this month I wrote a piece about the technological advances being made in offshore drilling that are being put to use in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, where companies are tapping oil four and five miles below the surface of the water.