White House Endorses Atlantic Oil Exploration

March 28, 2012 Updated: March 30, 2012

The White House on Wednesday said that it is endorsing oil and gas exploration along the Atlantic Coast in a move that could foreshadow offshore drilling in years to come.

The Department of the Interior said it is taking steps to look at conventional energy such as oil and renewable energy such as wind power in the Mid-Atlantic and South Atlantic.

“As we move forward with the safe exploration and production of our domestic energy supply, this environmental analysis will help provide the critical information we need to make smart decisions in the Mid- and South Atlantic,” said Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar in a statement.

The announcement comes as President Barack Obama faces scrutiny over soaring gas prices from Republicans during an election year.

Salazar added that the plan to go ahead with assessing the energy potential in the region will allow the administration to make decisions “based on sound science, public input, and the best information available” as a “critical component to this administration’s all-of-the-above energy strategy.”

The Interior Department said the exploration will provide more accurate data on the location of oil and other resources, adding that the studies are also needed to identify geological hazards, habitats, and archaeological sites that should be avoided during development.

Republicans were not impressed with the decision, saying that the announcement was just a show.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, a Republican from Washington, said the Obama administration will continue to block drilling permits and said the public was not given enough time to weigh in on the plan.

“Given the high economic stakes, the vast amounts of new red tape set to be unrolled, and the fact that some 15 agencies spent over two years devising this scheme, it’s unreasonable that the Obama administration won’t allow the American people more than just 75 days to review and comment on it,” Hastings said in a statement.

House Republicans have panned the Obama administration for only issuing a small number of permits in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010, saying it has hurt the U.S. economy and cost 12,000 jobs. Republicans have said the White House needs to issue more permits as well as open up Pacific, Atlantic, and Alaskan coasts to exploration.

Environmentalists also criticized the Obama administration’s decision.

Sarah Chasis, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the move would allow seismic surveying, which uses high-decibel pulses that are blasted from ships.

“Seismic surveys can be catastrophic to ocean life, including endangered whales and commercial fishing stocks,” she wrote on Thursday, adding that the process can kill or damage fish and their larvae.