News bites: Offshore drilling delays bleed into 2011, new coal plants sputter, and more

“The administration says it is simply trying to enforce new safety rules adopted in the wake of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. Environmental groups say the administration is right to take its time because the Gulf disaster exposed the risks of offshore drilling.”

“But the delay is hurting big oil companies such as Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which have billions of dollars in investments tied up in Gulf projects that are on hold and are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars a day for rigs that aren't allowed to drill.”

The Journal piece goes on to address the effects on smaller companies, a related controversy over the slowdown in shallow-water permits, and what it all means for U.S. oil production.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reports that North Dakota could be poised for an oil boom.

“Government and industry officials believe North Dakota's oil patch contains more than twice the amount of oil previously estimated and that the state's already record crude production will double within the decade,” AP reports.

“If the forecast is correct, North Dakota could leapfrog in a few years from the fourth-biggest oil producing state to No. 2, trailing only Texas.”

From oil to coal: The Washington Post ran a weekend piece that explores some of the reasons that construction of new coal-fired power plants has stalled out.

“The headline news for the coal industry in 2010 was what didn't happen: Construction did not begin on a single new coal-fired power plant in the United States for the second straight year,” the paper reports.

The piece adds:

“This in a nation where a fleet of coal-fired plants generates nearly half the electricity used. But a combination of low natural gas prices, shale gas discoveries, the economic slowdown and litigation by environmental groups has stopped — at least for now — groundbreaking on new ones.”

Time magazine, meanwhile, has a good overview of a topic familiar to E2 readers: the political battle over Environmental Protection Agency climate change rules that are now starting to take effect, albeit slowly.

“For all the sound and fury we're likely to witness from congressional Republicans over the coming year, the EPA's regulations won't do that much to reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. While the carbon cap-and-trade bills debated by Congress last year would have aimed to cut U.S. emissions 17% below 2005 levels by 2020, EPA officials believe that regulations could only achieve perhaps a 5% cut — far below the reductions many scientists believe are needed to avert dangerous climate change,” the magazine reports.

“Still, President Obama was elected promising to cut carbon emissions and chart a path to a cleaner economy — and whatever its political perils, regulation looks like his only immediate tool.”