President Barack Obama will find no disagreement in our region with his stated goal to cut our nations oil imports by a third over the next decade and replace it with U.S. energy sources, including more domestic oil.
But thousands of people across the Gulf Coast whose livelihoods depend on domestic oil production want to see more decisive action from this administration to back up the presidents words. That means working with the industry to speed up the resumption of safe drilling in the Gulf, which the administration halted for almost a year with its blanket moratorium and slowness to issue new drilling permits.
The president rejected criticism that this disruption is responsible for the current spike in gas prices, noting that oil production levels have remained high. But the disruption in exploration and drilling could have serious consequences over the next few years, as currently producing wells run out and not enough new wells come on line.
But the administration has yet to announce a sale of new leases in the Gulf. If no sale is held in 2011, it would be the first year without one since the mid-1960s. Administration officials have told industry representatives that the government may need more time to complete environmental assessments before a sale. But those evaluations should have continued over the past few months. In the end, its fantasy to talk about reducing oil imports and increasing domestic production without increasing exploration in the Gulf and thats something the White House must understand.
Oil is hardly the only controversial energy source. As the president said, Japans nuclear disaster has raised questions about that source of energy as it should. Regulators and the domestic nuclear industry must make sure that they are prepared to respond to a disaster and that strict safety standards are enforced.
Obama acknowledged that every president in the past 40 years has made the same promise to wean us from foreign oil, but that promise has so far gone unmet. Hes uniquely positioned to do something about it, though, by more diligently moving his administration to resume safe oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf and to expand production in our region in the future.