Obama Says No to Oil Leases, But Yes to Windmills, Off the Atlantic Coast

Susan Jones | December 3, 2012 | 8:54am EST
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A windfarm off the coast of Ramsgate, England. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - President Obama's plan for the Outer Continental Shelf does not include any new oil and gas leases in the Atlantic Ocean over the next five years, but it does include windmills.

The Interior Department wants to lease nearly 278,000 acres off the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Virginia for wind energy.

The lease sales, to be held next year, will be the first-ever competitive sales on the Outer Continental Shelf for wind energy, and the Interior Department describes the lease sales as "major milestones" in its wind energy program.

"Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said on Friday.

“We are implementing the President’s all-of-the-above strategy by focusing on developing areas with the lowest potential conflicts and the greatest expected gains. As we experience record domestic oil and gas development, we are moving forward at the same time with efforts to ensure that America continues to lead the world at developing the energy of the future.”

The administration's Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas leasing program for 2012-2017 "does not include areas off the Atlantic coast for leasing," the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management says in a fact sheet. "Areas off the Pacific coast are not included," either.  New domestic oil and gas development is taking place only in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska.

The oil industry has been frustrated by the administration's refusal to grant new oil and gas leases off the Atlantic and Pacific C oasts.

In June, the Institute for Energy Research (a free-market energy policy group) accused the Obama administration of turning its back on "potentially enormous energy resources that could provide jobs and energy security for America." By imposing a "unilateral executive embargo" on new OCS oil and gas leases in the Atlantic and Pacific, it said, the Obama administration is giving the American people access to "a mere fraction of the offshore resources they own."

In Friday's announcement, the Interior Department said the wind energy leases are part of a plan to develop the “full range” of energy resources on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The Obama administration believes new oil lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska are enough to support its goal of continuing to increase domestic oil and gas production – which “has grown each year the President has been in office," the Interior Department noted.

Domestic oil production last year was higher than at any time in nearly a decade; and natural gas production is at its highest level ever, the administration says. Foreign oil imports now account for less than 50 percent of the oil consumed in America – the lowest level since 1995, it says.

The American Petroleum Institute, which represents more than 500 oil and natural gas companies, says the United States could and should reduce its dependence on foreign oil imports even more than it already has. It advocates as much domestic oil and gas production as possible – something that would produce more jobs, energy security, and government revenue.

The proposed lease sales announced on Friday include two “Wind Energy Areas” – one about 27 miles off the Virginia coast and the other about 10 miles off the Massachusetts-R.I. coasts.

“Holding competitive lease sales on the wind-rich east coast is ushering in a new chapter in America’s development of renewable energy,” said Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes. “By working closely with Rhode Island and the other states to identify the best areas for offshore wind farms, winning bidders will have a clear pathway to successfully harness our world-class offshore wind resource.”

The “Proposed Sale Notices” will be published in the Federal Register on December 3, and the 60-day comment period ends on February 1, 2013. Comments received or postmarked by that date will be made available to the public and considered prior to the publication of the Final Sale Notices.

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