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Originally published April 19, 2011 at 8:57 PM | Page modified April 20, 2011 at 3:10 PM

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A year after spill, Gulf Coast is healing, hurting

A year after the BP oil spill put the brakes on full-bore domestic production, it's back to "drill, baby, drill" as federal lawmakers, anxious about rising gasoline prices, push legislation to open offshore leases and make it easier to drill domestically.

McClatchy Newspapers

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WASHINGTON — A year after the BP oil spill put the brakes on full-bore domestic production, it's back to "drill, baby, drill" as federal lawmakers, anxious about rising gasoline prices, push legislation to open offshore leases and make it easier to drill domestically.

Nowhere is this emphasis on increasing domestic production louder than in the Gulf Coast states hit hard by the oil spill — Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas — where the calls for drilling from members of both parties are louder than last year's calls for caution as oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.

"Louisiana is home to the nation's oil and gas industry that is trying to get back to work after the Deepwater Horizon accident," said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. Landrieu, one of the Gulf Coast's few Democrats, is critical of the drilling moratorium imposed by the Obama administration after the spill and its slow restarting of the oil-well permitting process on the Outer continental shelf.

"We need to rapidly accelerate the permitting process in the Gulf to increase production," she said, and expand it to offshore Alaska and other areas.

Gulf Coast lawmakers say it's time to get back into the oil business. Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation that would give leaseholders an additional year to make up for production lost during the moratorium.

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday indicates that 69 percent of Americans favor increased offshore drilling. That's up 20 percentage points from last June, while the oil spill was still in progress, and is back to the level of support seen in summer 2008.

In the Republican-controlled U.S. House, the Natural Resources Committee last week approved three bills that would force the Interior Department to speed up permits, open leases in the Gulf of Mexico and off the Virginia coast, set a domestic production goal and, as Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said, "end the administration's de facto moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico."

The House is expected to vote on the bills, which include the one-year extension for leaseholders, when Congress returns from its spring break.

The reason for the push: instability in the Middle East and $4-a-gallon-plus gasoline in several states, with the national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded at $3.83 a gallon. Crude oil reached a high of $112 a barrel April 8, with the Energy Information Administration warning that "crude-oil prices are currently at their highest level since 2008."

Environmental activists are alarmed at what they say are short memories by lawmakers about the dangers of offshore drilling. "We are seeing the chronic effects of the oil spill with 65 (baby) dolphins washing up on the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida," said Louie Miller, head of the Sierra Club in Mississippi, who added that there have been 87 dead sea turtles since March 15. "Our concerns are that we haven't recovered from the first disaster."

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