Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday afternoon that the Obama administration will not allow offshore oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as part of the next five-year drilling plan, reversing two key policy changes President Obama announced in late March.
“We are adjusting our strategy in areas where there are no active leases,” Salazar told reporters in a phone call, adding that the administration has decided “not expand to new areas at this time” and instead “focus and expand our critical resources on areas that are currently active” when it comes to oil and gas drilling.
In March — less than a month before the BP oil spill — Obama and Salazar said they would open up the eastern Gulf and parts of the Atlantic, including off the coast of Virginia, to offshore oil and gas exploration. On both of those new areas, the administration said it would start scoping to see if oil and gas drilling would be suitable. The eastern Gulf remains closed to drilling under a congressional moratorium, but the White House indicated it would press to lift the moratorium if necessary.
Wednesday’s announcement is sure to please environmentalists while angering oil and gas companies as well as some lawmakers from both parties who have pressed for continued offshore energy exploration in the wake of massive Gulf of Mexico spill.
According to multiple individuals briefed on the plan, the Obama administration will proceed with scoping for possible drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico and in the Arctic as part of the upcoming 2012-2017 Outer Continental Shelf program, while keeping the other areas off limits.