Michael Whatley

A similar tale is unfolding in the quest to open the Atlantic to oil and natural gas drilling. Industry interest in developing the Atlantic is rising and public support is overwhelming. In Virginia, 80% of voters polled agreed that Virginia should open its waters to offshore drilling, and Virginia’s bipartisan delegation – including its two Democratic U.S. Senators – have introduced and supported legislation that would commence leasing.

Despite this level of public support, the Obama Administration has blocked leasing in the area until at least 2017. Taking it one step further, the Administration has prevented private companies from even executing seismic studies of the region, which would help determine the size of the oil and gas reserves under the Atlantic. Specifically, the Department of the Interior has delayed by nearly two years the finalization of an environmental assessment that would permit companies to survey the area with seismic surveying technologies. Interior initially stated in February 2010 that this environmental review would be complete by April 2012. Time passed and nothing happened. Now, the agency says the review will be done by March 2014 – over four years since Interior initiated the process. For comparison’s sake, Interior spends about two to three years developing an environmental assessment that guides offshore oil and gas drilling for all of the United States.

Why all the fuss? Environmentalists have wrongly concluded that by preventing activities associated with energy development – like building oil pipelines – they can magically stop fossil fuel production and consumption. Afraid to challenge environmental opposition groups, the Administration has apparently decided that it can delay these types of projects rather than rejectthem. Saying an unequivocal “no” to Keystone XL runs afoul of the President’s stated goals for North American energy independence and would agitate his tenuous relationship with labor and moderate Senate Democrats. The same goes for Atlantic surveying and leasing in the federal waters adjacent to Virginia, a state that was critical to the President’s reelection and where residents overwhelming support offshore drilling.

These blatantly political delays will come with far-reaching consequences. The energy industry and other private investors stand ready to sink billions of dollars into the U.S. economy to build pipelines, pursue offshore drilling and execute dozens of other projects. Regrettably, this Administration has sent a strong message to the energy industry and other private investors that investment in the United States comes with a lot of risk – if it will come at all .

Michael Whatley

Michael Whatley is Executive Vice President of the Consumer Energy Alliance.