Obama’s offshore drilling pledge restates existing plan

That plan, which does not require congressional approval, envisions a suite of new oil-and-gas lease sales in resource-rich areas in the western and central Gulf of Mexico and, in the later years, off Alaska’s northern coast.

But the plan does not include leasing off the Atlantic Coast or in the eastern Gulf of Mexico — regions the administration pulled from consideration in the wake of the 2010 BP oil spill. (Leasing in the eastern Gulf would have required legislation to remove the moratoria in place there.)

Republicans and oil companies are pushing plans that would require vastly expanded leasing compared to the Interior proposal.

Advocates of wider drilling also say that testing and exploration in untapped areas, such as Virginia’s coast, will yield expanded resource estimates.

The House approved legislation last May that would mandate much wider leasing than the administration envisions, including areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the author of the House-passed measure, knocked Obama’s comments on drilling, arguing the “lofty rhetoric” is at odds with the White House record on energy.

Hastings, in a statement, said, “An accurate description of President Obama’s energy policies would include: reinstating an offshore drilling ban off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.”

He knocked other White House policies he alleges hinder job creation and energy security, including rejection of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Obama’s speech, in addition to the offshore drilling comments, touted expanded onshore natural-gas production while reiterating his call for repealing oil-industry tax breaks.

The tax proposal drew an attack from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group. “Advocating greater energy production but penalizing those who provide that energy is not a sound energy policy, but a contradiction,” said Jack Gerard, the group’s CEO, in response to Obama's speech.

Interior Department officials, when rolling out the draft offshore plan last November, said it strikes the right balance.

“The proposed program will promote safe and responsible domestic energy production by offering substantial acreage for lease in regions with known potential for oil and gas development,” Interior said when announcing the plan.

Obama, in his Tuesday speech, touted tougher offshore drilling rules that Interior imposed after the 2010 BP spill. “I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago,” he said.