WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama announced plans to allow drilling off the east coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska. “This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly,” Obama said.
Before an audience of U.S. military and government leaders, Obama also introduced plans to ramp up the use of biofuels in military vehicles as well as double the number of hybrid vehicles in the government fleet.
“We have less than 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves,” Obama said. “[W]e consume more than 20 percent of the world’s oil. And what that means is that drilling alone can’t come close to meeting our long-term energy needs. And for the sake of our planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.”
“So the answer is not drilling everywhere all the time,” Obama said. “But the answer is not, also, for us to ignore the fact that we are going to need vital energy sources to maintain our economic growth and our security.”
“Given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth and produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we are going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy,” Obama said.
The plan proposes to open areas of the Atlantic and Arctic coasts to oil and natural gas drilling for the first time, ending a moratorium on a 167-million-acre region off the eastern shore from northern Delaware to Florida’s central coast. The proposed drilling will also take place in a 130-million-acre region in northern Alaska in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas of the Arctic.
The U.S. coast north of New Jersey and the Pacific stretch from Mexico to Canada would remain closed to drilling, as would the environmentally sensitive region of southwestern Alaska, which includes Bristol Bay, home to endangered whales and commercial fisheries.
The area in the Gulf that will be opened under the plan is the richest for drilling, adjacent to an area containing thousands of wells and drilling platforms. Drilling there may yield as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil, according to Department of the Interior estimates.
“For decades, we’ve talked about the risks to our security created by dependence on foreign oil, but that dependence has actually grown year after year,” Obama said.Obama said the new energy plan will decrease dependence on foreign oil and increase U.S. security.
“And we’ll be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence,” Obama said.
The first lease sale is expected to be a section of ocean off the coast of Virginia. Drilling for this region, located 50 miles off shore, is expected to begin as early as next year. The area already has been approved for development.
Additional lease sales are not expected to take place before 2012, due to lengthy geologic and environmental studies, public comment periods, and possible court challenges.
Later this week, Obama will announce plans for increased mileage standards. The standards are projected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil, which Obama said is akin to taking 58 million cars off the road for an entire year.
“[M]oving toward clean energy is about our security. It’s also about our economy. And it’s about the future of our planet,” Obama said.