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Obama's 'ploy' on offshore drilling?

There’s been a lot of speculation about what President Obama tried to accomplish politically yesterday with his offshore drilling announcement. Liberals insist that it’s little more than a semi-corrupt payoff to get "conservadems" to cooperate on climate legislation. Conservatives, similarly, claim that the president is trying to trick lawmakers into voting for a "cap-and-tax" climate bill. Actually, what this episode shows most vividly is how commentators with an agenda can oversimplify political events.

In fact, there are few signs that the administration attempted to strike a deal with lawmakers in exchange for opening up big swathes of the outer continental shelf to exploration. One Hill staffer who should have known told me that staffs didn't even hear about the decision until just before it was announced. You'd imagine that, if intending to entice fence-sitting lawmakers to cooperate on Obama's climate agenda, the White House would have done more to reach out to Congress.

There also just wasn't much of a deal to be made. The undecided lawmakers are unlikely to make up their minds based on a drilling decision. And it's already assumed that no climate bill can get out of the Senate without a robust offshore-drilling provision, anyway.

So the most conspiracy theorists can reasonably claim is that this was a poorly implemented attempt to curry a smidgen of unfocused favor from lawmakers who will still remain skeptical of a big climate bill.

Of course, the president surely considered the political implications of his decision.

Better interpretations include one from the American Enterprise Institute’s Kenneth Green, who speculates that Obama is seeking to insulate himself from popular blowback when gas prices inevitably rise during the summer -- a lesson he learned when campaigning during the summer of 2008. Another possibility is that the president is seeking to give senators working on a grand-bargain climate bill some cover to propose more permissive drilling rules as negotiations progress.

But an obvious and dirty quid-pro-quo this probably wasn't.

By Stephen Stromberg  | April 1, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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I noticed that this small group of tax payers with high risks and high revenues were singled out for higher taxes. Given the nature of the oil and gas industry where you can loose a millions on a dry hole everytime you drill and when you hit oil it gets pumped dry and you are back to having nothing I hope they do not kill the industry. If the President took these steps to reduce our future dependency on imported oil and because "only Nixon could go to china" which was a line in a movie a few years ago, then I salute him.

Posted by: almorganiv | April 1, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Although this was a good idea Obama didn't go far enough. This was a ploy to detract from the damage and disgust on Americans forced health care bill. Baby steps is a joke when a leap is essential. His numbers are tanking, efforts to sell this obamanation to all of us is failing. The lies and costs are being disclosed daily. Large public companies are being hawled to Washington as the publicity is hurting the sale he's trying to accomplish. He's playing a juggling act. His bag of tricks won't work. We see through his every move. The handwriting for the future of Americans is higher costs, taxes, penalties and huge job losses.

Posted by: MOMLEE | April 1, 2010 3:20 PM | Report abuse

Well, as you can see by my User ID, I love having President Obama in office. But this decision might not have been the greatest in my opinion. There are major risks of oil spills which kill animals in drilling waters! I think this needed to go under more consideration.

Posted by: Obamagirl1 | April 1, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Has Obama previously done anything with such opaque motives? You're my trusted source on this stuff - you need to think and research for me, so I can go about the rest of my day without having to worry about such things. What is the President up to? Surely you have sources.


Posted by: screwjob1 | April 1, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I think its a great move by Obama. It appears to open up massive areas for drilling operations while protecting sensitive ecosystems in the Pacific and Arctic, but in reality, the current DOI 5-year plan only calls for a single lease sale off the coast of Virginia, something that won't change until at least 2013. That is plenty of time to get through the upcoming election and the 2012 cycle. This takes the steam out of the debate and gives pro-drilling groups hope, while really not changing anything over the next couple of years.

The worst case scenario for enviros is that drilling rigs move off the coast of VA around 2015 and perhaps into other expanded areas in 2017-2018. This fight is a long way from over. This is just a great way to kick it down the road a few years.

Posted by: kcd531 | April 1, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Is there anything that he won't flip flop on? Truly the most untrusted POTUS in history married to the most untrusted congress and senate in history. Don't you think it is a bit odd that everyone, even the mainstream, wonders what he is up to? You are caught in the trap my friend. But we old wise majority don't move as quick from side to side as you would suggest. We are not taking the bait. We will quietly with discipline vote this garbage out in November.

Posted by: calvin3 | April 1, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to really go out on a limb here, and suggest that maybe Obama thought that tacking to the center was the right thing to do on both the political and economic merits?

The Santa Barbara oil spill had disastrous consequences for the industry. By the evidence of the past couple of decades, they have literally cleaned up their act. Obama would further keep the most sensitive offshore grounds off-limits.

At the same time this is a source of jobs, royalties, and profits. Yes, oil energy puts more carbon into the atmosphere. But recall what us critics of "drill baby drill" were saying about McCain's magic bullet proposal: the amount of oil from these new wells won't make a significant difference.

In sum, it is a reasonable thing to do. And that may be the intended message, more than the expectation of any specific deal - to show that the president is a reasonable guy, not an ideologue captured by some radical agenda. He's attempting to renew his appeal to the independents in the center.

Posted by: j2hess | April 1, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

"He's attempting to renew his appeal to the independents in the center."

No, calvin3, that does not include you. We already know you're a lost cause.

We can live with that. :-)

Posted by: j2hess | April 1, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

j2hess, spoken like a true government employee.

Posted by: calvin3 | April 1, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I agree this whole thing is increadibly opaque as is just about everything Obama does. He must have some kind of grand strategy ... but we really can't tell, can we?

Isn't it great having a President we can't figure.... And he gives us the choice of blind faith!

Posted by: sally62 | April 1, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting to note that the oil tract with the second largest reserves in the world - larger than all of OPEC combined - the Bakken fields in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, are still off limits to US oil producers.

Obama's announcement regarding opening off shore drilling was another Obama fraud!

Posted by: mike85 | April 1, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

A brilliant move by Obama. He's Republicans worst nightmare, a moderate centrist providing balanced leadership and making difficult decisions about seemingly intractable problems.

Opening up drilling? Just the thing you would expect from a radical socialist dictator bent on bankrupting and enslaving true American patriots.

Posted by: thebobbob | April 1, 2010 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Here's another radical idea. Maybe this was the right thing to do. We are not going to be independent of foreign oil through alternative energy sources for a very long time, and in the interim, new sources of domestic oil will help us send fewer trillions of dollars to the middle east. A comprehensive energy package is very smart policy, without regard to the politics.

Posted by: bertram2 | April 1, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

This decision by President Obama is a tactical move to take away the only talking point the rethugs have on this country's energy policy. Many years before a single oil drilling derrick is seen off the coast of the eastern states, massive exploration and analysis of the findings must take place. If it is found to be uneconomical, then oil companies won't take the risks. So to, if the find is minimal to moderate, only the market will drive the oil companies to sink tons of money into drilling operations. But if new energy conservation measures bring about substantial savings, the price per barrel may be too little for the oil companies to act. Any way you look at the decision, President Obama took this issue off the radar screen for quite some time.

Posted by: monel7191 | April 1, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

Does the US still have the 12 mile territorial limit off the coast line? I can't remember. If so, then Russia and China should start drilling at 13 miles off the California coast. Some one might as well enjoy the oil. The US certainly won't force them to stop.

Posted by: gfhoward258 | April 1, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting to note that the oil tract with the second largest reserves in the world - larger than all of OPEC combined - the Bakken fields in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, are still off limits to US oil producers.

Obama's announcement regarding opening off shore drilling was another Obama fraud!

Posted by: mike85

Wrong. The only thing fraudulent here is your lies. From a petroleum engineer:

"The Bakken formation is an oil-bearing strata covering parts of Montana, North Dakota, and Saskatchewan. Oil was first produced from the Bakken more than 50 years ago. Production was mainly from a few vertical wells until the 1980’s when horizontal technology became available. Only recently after the intensive application of horizontal wells combined with hydraulic fracturing technology did production really take off."

Posted by: j2hess | April 1, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

Does the US still have the 12 mile territorial limit off the coast line?

Posted by: gfhoward258

The Exclusive Economic Zone now extends 200 miles.

Posted by: j2hess | April 1, 2010 6:43 PM | Report abuse

The real threat of an oil spill is from transport accidents. The recent spill in Port Arthur, TX is a prime example. The Exxon Valdez was en route (shipping). Drilling and production accidents are actually pretty rare nowadays, most are shipping/transport accidents. Way too much liability here in the states for drilling companies and oil companies to do things in an unsafe manner.

Posted by: savannah4 | April 1, 2010 7:14 PM | Report abuse

One interesting and useful part of this stories presumed question:
Why Obama made this gesture?

I'd argue that Obama knows...
the GOP knows...
and the Oil Companies know...

... what every geologist knows.

-that the US continental shelf doesn't hold squat in terms of cost effective oil resources - the easy oil money is elsewhere. All the players understand what every geologist knows - there are far better 'bangs-for-the-buck' out there to be had. Exploration and development resources are finite.

Tribal political nonsense, however, is not finite... it just goes on and on... and on...

Obama calls bluff. Good call Barack.

Posted by: PulSamsara | April 1, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

He can also take cover in the fact that a) the moratorium was already lifted by the previous Congress, and there was no way he was going to get that re-instituted, and b) actual drilling will have to go through lengthy environmental regulations, permit delegation and tons of other red tape, followed by building and deploying rigs, etc. -- making near-term implementation impossible. Given these two, he turned a political liability into an asset by appearing to give the green-light to something that would eventually get pushed forward anyway, and yet would take a decade to see any results. All this, and the Republicans still go apoplectic on him, once again making them look like the "Party of No", even when they supposedly get their way (Sarah Palin, "Stall, baby, Stall", Boehner's rant?).

All in all a pretty shrewd political move if you ask me!

Posted by: gso-chris | April 1, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

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