Commentary Magazine


Topic: oil exploration

Oil Exploration Calls for Expanded Security

The New York Times has a lengthy report on Shell’s plans this summer to drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska. Much of the article focuses on the politicking and lobbying behind President Obama’s decision to let the drilling go forward which holds the possibility of tapping a million barrels a day of crude, or close to Qatar’s entire production. One of the many oddities which goes unexplained is why drilling in the Arctic Ocean–an inherently risky undertaking given the existence of icebergs, storms, monster waves, and other dangers–is permitted while drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away–which not only has more oil (upwards of six billion barrels in all) but also could be drilled in greater safety–is not. But let’s leave that aside. What I want to address here is another neglected dimension of this important issue–the security dimension.

I saw this for myself last week when I traveled to Alaska, along with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, to meet with Coast Guard officials and to do an Arctic overflight that took me from Anchorage to Barrow–America’s northernmost city which remains, even now, frigid and snowy. The expansion of oil exploration calls for expanded security–to protect against terrorists and extreme environmentalists who might try to sabotage these operations (Greenpeace is said to be chartering a vessel to try to block Shell) and to guard against other Arctic nations such as Russia that might try to grab for themselves oil fields that rightfully belong to the U.S., Canada or other nations. There is also a need for expanded safety operations to ensure an adequate response in case of accidents or oil spills.

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The New York Times has a lengthy report on Shell’s plans this summer to drill exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean off the north coast of Alaska. Much of the article focuses on the politicking and lobbying behind President Obama’s decision to let the drilling go forward which holds the possibility of tapping a million barrels a day of crude, or close to Qatar’s entire production. One of the many oddities which goes unexplained is why drilling in the Arctic Ocean–an inherently risky undertaking given the existence of icebergs, storms, monster waves, and other dangers–is permitted while drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge a few miles away–which not only has more oil (upwards of six billion barrels in all) but also could be drilled in greater safety–is not. But let’s leave that aside. What I want to address here is another neglected dimension of this important issue–the security dimension.

I saw this for myself last week when I traveled to Alaska, along with a group from the Council on Foreign Relations, to meet with Coast Guard officials and to do an Arctic overflight that took me from Anchorage to Barrow–America’s northernmost city which remains, even now, frigid and snowy. The expansion of oil exploration calls for expanded security–to protect against terrorists and extreme environmentalists who might try to sabotage these operations (Greenpeace is said to be chartering a vessel to try to block Shell) and to guard against other Arctic nations such as Russia that might try to grab for themselves oil fields that rightfully belong to the U.S., Canada or other nations. There is also a need for expanded safety operations to ensure an adequate response in case of accidents or oil spills.

All of this calls for a greater Coast Guard presence, yet this perennially underfunded service is hard put simply to base two helicopters in Barrow for a few months–an operation which will require renting scarce hanger space. The entire Coast Guard has but one modern icebreaker, the Healy, commissioned in 1999; there is an urgent need for more icebreakers but despite years of talk, Congress has never budgeted the funds. (A new icrebreaker would cost $1 billion if built in America–considerably less if in South Korea.) The money coud be assessed directly as a user fee on oil companies, but that would require a change in current laws which send all oil taxes straight to the the general funds of the U.S. Treasury and the state of Alaska where they are used for myriad other purposes.

A broader struggle for control of the Arctic looms as age-old ice melts, uncovering not only oil but other valuable resources from minerals to fish stocks and creating new shipping lanes, at least in the summertime, which cut the time of travel between the Pacific and Atlantic. Other nations, such as China and Russia, are investing in icebreakers and ice-strengthened ships to take advantage of these new opportunities; as my Council on Foreign Relations colleague, Coast Guard Captain Melissa Bert points out, the U.S. lags behind. That is only one of many national security challenges that need to be addressed, but it is hard to imagine dealing with this issue, or others, if military spending is subjected to an indiscriminate sequester come January 1.

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Obama Escapes From His Offshore-Drilling Promise

So much for the Obami’s willingness to pursue domestic energy exploration and drilling:

There will be no new domestic offshore oil drilling pending a review of the rig disaster and massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, the White House said Friday morning. Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” senior adviser David Axelrod said “no additional [offshore] drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened and whether there was something unique and preventable here. … No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what’s happened here and of what is being proposed elsewhere.” The administration recently announced that it would open new coastal areas to oil exploration, including regions off Virginia’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a long moratorium on new drilling.

Well, in essence, this gets the administration off the hook with enraged environmental lobbyists who went berserk when Obama suggested that we might open up offshore drilling. But then there was always less than met the eye when it came to Obama’s commitment to domestic energy development: “Any new drilling was years away anyway under the administration’s new drilling policy, which was interpreted as an attempt to show bipartisanship in energy policy and get greater support in the process for climate legislation.” So now even the fig leaf of bipartisanship is gone. And that “review,” one can bet, will be just as slow as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell review. In short, the Obami aren’t about to move any quicker on offshore drilling than they are on gays in the military.

So much for the Obami’s willingness to pursue domestic energy exploration and drilling:

There will be no new domestic offshore oil drilling pending a review of the rig disaster and massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast, the White House said Friday morning. Speaking on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” senior adviser David Axelrod said “no additional [offshore] drilling has been authorized, and none will until we find out what happened and whether there was something unique and preventable here. … No domestic drilling in new areas is going to go forward until there is an adequate review of what’s happened here and of what is being proposed elsewhere.” The administration recently announced that it would open new coastal areas to oil exploration, including regions off Virginia’s coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a long moratorium on new drilling.

Well, in essence, this gets the administration off the hook with enraged environmental lobbyists who went berserk when Obama suggested that we might open up offshore drilling. But then there was always less than met the eye when it came to Obama’s commitment to domestic energy development: “Any new drilling was years away anyway under the administration’s new drilling policy, which was interpreted as an attempt to show bipartisanship in energy policy and get greater support in the process for climate legislation.” So now even the fig leaf of bipartisanship is gone. And that “review,” one can bet, will be just as slow as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell review. In short, the Obami aren’t about to move any quicker on offshore drilling than they are on gays in the military.

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Flotsam and Jetsam

But it was supposed to help the Democrats: “Gallup’s most recent polling of the generic ballot shows a net five-point bounce for the Republicans, post-health care passage. The poll of registered voters now shows a lead of 47%-44%; Republicans had trailed by a similar 47%-44% margin in the first and second weeks of March, and by a 47%-45% margin in last week’s tracking results.  The loss for the Democrats comes mostly from independent voters; the gain for Republicans comes from Republican and Democratic voters turning toward the GOP.”

But it hasn’t, explains Jeffrey Anderson: “The Democrats had optimistically claimed that turning a deaf ear to the American people and passing their unpopular bill would make it popular. But Scott Rasmussen observes that ‘the overriding tone of the data is that passage of the legislation has not changed anything. Those who opposed it before now want to repeal it. Those who supported the legislation oppose repealing it.’ Unfortunately for the Democrats, the former number is a lot bigger than the latter one.”

But Obama said voters would learn to love it once it passed: “In addition to sharing Republicans’ and Democrats’ concerns about the bill’s failure to address healthcare costs, and sharing Republicans’ concerns about government intervention and costs, the majority of independents agree with Democrats that the bill doesn’t do enough to regulate the healthcare industry. As a result, independents concur with four of the five critiques tested, one more than members of either political party do.”

But Obama said voters didn’t care about “process”: Gallup asked “whether Americans believe the methods Democratic leaders used to secure passage of the bill represented ‘an abuse of power’ or ‘an appropriate use’ of the majority party’s power in Congress. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans see it as abuse of power, whereas a smaller majority of Democrats (70%) call it an appropriate use of power. The majority of independents agree with most Republicans on this question.”

But the Republican insiders told us that Charlie Crist was the “safe” choice: “Former FL GOP chair Jim Greer is the subject of a criminal investigation after an audit showed he may have profited from party activity, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. … Under pressure from major donors and party elders, Greer announced in early Jan. he would resign in Feb. Donors had been upset with his stewardship of party finances, and with spending many saw as beneficial to Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Greer’s major backer when he became chair. Greer is supporting Crist in the primary against ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R), which did not sit well with the state’s activist base.”

But don’t they know that Henry Waxman will haul them in front of his committee to read them the riot act? “Boeing Co. will take a charge of $150 million due to the recent health care overhaul legislation, the aircraft maker said Wednesday. The charge will hurt earnings by 20 cents per share in the first quarter of 2010. In 2013 Boeing will no longer be able to claim an income tax deduction related to certain prescription drug benefits for retirees. Accounting rules require that the company take the charge during the period the legislation is enacted. Several other companies have said they will take accounting charges due to the health care reform bill including AT&T, AK Steel Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and 3M Co.”

But what about the rest of the country? “The top House Republican says the White House’s decision to begin offshore drilling across huge expanses of ocean is a ‘positive step,’ but he’s still blasting the Obama administration for keeping areas on the West Coast closed to such exploration. House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said that the administration ‘continues to defy the will of the American people,’ who he says supported a 2008 congressional decision to allow oil exploration off the Pacific Coast and Alaska.”

But Obama was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent and “pivot” from ObamaCare to job creation: “Private-sector employers unexpectedly shed 23,000 jobs in March, according to a measure of private-sector employment released this morning, reminding us of the very choppy nature of this recovery.”

But it was supposed to help the Democrats: “Gallup’s most recent polling of the generic ballot shows a net five-point bounce for the Republicans, post-health care passage. The poll of registered voters now shows a lead of 47%-44%; Republicans had trailed by a similar 47%-44% margin in the first and second weeks of March, and by a 47%-45% margin in last week’s tracking results.  The loss for the Democrats comes mostly from independent voters; the gain for Republicans comes from Republican and Democratic voters turning toward the GOP.”

But it hasn’t, explains Jeffrey Anderson: “The Democrats had optimistically claimed that turning a deaf ear to the American people and passing their unpopular bill would make it popular. But Scott Rasmussen observes that ‘the overriding tone of the data is that passage of the legislation has not changed anything. Those who opposed it before now want to repeal it. Those who supported the legislation oppose repealing it.’ Unfortunately for the Democrats, the former number is a lot bigger than the latter one.”

But Obama said voters would learn to love it once it passed: “In addition to sharing Republicans’ and Democrats’ concerns about the bill’s failure to address healthcare costs, and sharing Republicans’ concerns about government intervention and costs, the majority of independents agree with Democrats that the bill doesn’t do enough to regulate the healthcare industry. As a result, independents concur with four of the five critiques tested, one more than members of either political party do.”

But Obama said voters didn’t care about “process”: Gallup asked “whether Americans believe the methods Democratic leaders used to secure passage of the bill represented ‘an abuse of power’ or ‘an appropriate use’ of the majority party’s power in Congress. Nearly 9 in 10 Republicans see it as abuse of power, whereas a smaller majority of Democrats (70%) call it an appropriate use of power. The majority of independents agree with most Republicans on this question.”

But the Republican insiders told us that Charlie Crist was the “safe” choice: “Former FL GOP chair Jim Greer is the subject of a criminal investigation after an audit showed he may have profited from party activity, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. … Under pressure from major donors and party elders, Greer announced in early Jan. he would resign in Feb. Donors had been upset with his stewardship of party finances, and with spending many saw as beneficial to Gov. Charlie Crist (R), Greer’s major backer when he became chair. Greer is supporting Crist in the primary against ex-FL House Speaker Marco Rubio (R), which did not sit well with the state’s activist base.”

But don’t they know that Henry Waxman will haul them in front of his committee to read them the riot act? “Boeing Co. will take a charge of $150 million due to the recent health care overhaul legislation, the aircraft maker said Wednesday. The charge will hurt earnings by 20 cents per share in the first quarter of 2010. In 2013 Boeing will no longer be able to claim an income tax deduction related to certain prescription drug benefits for retirees. Accounting rules require that the company take the charge during the period the legislation is enacted. Several other companies have said they will take accounting charges due to the health care reform bill including AT&T, AK Steel Corp., Caterpillar Inc. and 3M Co.”

But what about the rest of the country? “The top House Republican says the White House’s decision to begin offshore drilling across huge expanses of ocean is a ‘positive step,’ but he’s still blasting the Obama administration for keeping areas on the West Coast closed to such exploration. House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, said that the administration ‘continues to defy the will of the American people,’ who he says supported a 2008 congressional decision to allow oil exploration off the Pacific Coast and Alaska.”

But Obama was going to keep unemployment at 8 percent and “pivot” from ObamaCare to job creation: “Private-sector employers unexpectedly shed 23,000 jobs in March, according to a measure of private-sector employment released this morning, reminding us of the very choppy nature of this recovery.”

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