Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Few Thoughts on Yesterday's Announcement

The figure above shows the New York Times graphic of where the administration is proposing to open offshore oil exploration, together with the 2004 map of which states went for Bush versus Kerry.  It appears the President is proposing that oil exploration should proceed entirely offshore red states, and not at all off blue states.

I think this announcement should be seen almost entirely in political terms.  The President wants to pass comprehensive energy/climate legislation without damaging Democratic prospects in the fall congressional election.  He has probably calculated that very few if any Republicans will support him, regardless of what is in the legislation, and he wants to stoke a storyline of Republicans as the unreasonable party of no.  The story was front page news in the NYT, and on other news sources all day.  I had to be in the car several times during the day, and heard various environmentalist fulminations against it on NPR.  So the President has succeeding in getting a full day of news coverage proposing a basically Republican idea, and being opposed by environmentalists.  The story got so much coverage precisely because a Democratic president is not expected to piss off environmentalists by championing Republican ideas.  He has burnished his bipartisan credentials, and he has removed a potentially potent issue that Republicans could have rallied around in proposing an alternative plan.  They will be left to focus their opposition on less reasonable issues.  And vulnerable democratic congress-folk in red states have an issue they can trumpet as they campaign for reelection.

But at the same time, the actual environmental damage here will not be very great.  The amount of oil is probably modest (though no one knows for sure) - so the climate impact will not be enormous on the grand scale of things.  Precisely because the US has already used most of its original oil endowment, the climate damage in burning the rest is much less than what's already been done.  Oil exploration is definitely a local pollution risk (via spills etc), but in this case, that risk is all being absorbed by states who, speaking in generalities, want more oil exploration.  The President is not picking a fight to get exploration started off California or Massachusetts, were there probably would be incredibly bitter local opposition.

If this is the price that has to be paid to get a decent energy/climate bill passed, count me as a vote in favor.


Anonymous said...

I thought all your West Coast governors and senators were opposed to any kind of offshore drilling.

Stuart Staniford said...

none - most of them, I'm sure. Still, the level of passion is much more about the local coast than some other coast somewhere else.

Unknown said...


I am a geologist who currently lives and works in West
Africa. Obviously I am helping to look for oil. I am also a dyed-in-the-wool bleeding heart liberal Californian by birth. I had very strong doubts about Obama during the election and for awhile afterwards reguarding the political reality of his vision vs. the rhetorical beauty of his vision. This past week seems to put him into the LBJ class of politician.

Your anaylsis is absolutely correct to my thinking. The success or failure of a politician is based on being able to actually get something done. Clinton's most blantant failure was taking the mandate he won the Presidency with and not getting anything for healthcare. He muddled through after that. Tactically brilliant, but strategically, well not so good.

Obama has taken a decisive mandate and seemed to muddle through and disappoint everyone. And then produced two incredible achievements in the same week. This is politically speaking, we can argue about the substance as long as you like.

However one looks at it, nothing will actually happen for 10 to 15 years with respect to actual drilling and production. Yet the political ramifications are immediate. I cannot wait to see what is next.

Manolo said...

I definitively like George Mobus take on that one:

Opening Up The East Coast for Drilling - Is Obama Crazy?

Not in the least!

But he is in panic mode.