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Last week, President Barack Obama made good on a campaign promise by proposing to open new American waters to drilling for oil and natural gas. However, by promoting fossil-fuel usage and threatening these off-shore ocean ecosystems, he is failing to make good on protecting the environment.
The proposal will open up much of the Eastern seaboard—from Delaware to central Florida—the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, as well as more of Alaska, to drilling. This near-sighted plan endangers the environment while also doing little to advance the United States’ goal of energy independence. The research necessary to pinpoint tracts of oil and natural gas suitable for drilling is incredibly invasive; for example, the process often disrupts whale migration because of sonar equipment. Such research will likely drag on for 10 to15 years, while destroying precious ecosystems.
Apart from the severe environmental hazards, Obama’s proposal is problematic because of the short-term solution it provides. Experts estimate that the total yield from the new drilling proposal will only provide three years of oil and about two years of natural gas, based on current consumption levels. These are paltry numbers. Nor is this, in fact, really a “solution.” The recovered oil and gas will not be available for many years, and it is possible that once the oil and gas tracts are found, extraction may be prohibitively expensive. In this circumstance, the country would not benefit—perhaps even losing money—and the environmental damage from preliminary research would have occurred needlessly.
Some point to possible political motivations behind Obama’s proposal, suggesting that perhaps it is a move to drum up support from some Republicans and centrist Democrats for a more far-reaching climate change bill. Since the exact contents of the final bill are still unknown, changes will undoubtedly occur during its time in Congress. Therefore, Obama was unwise to make environmentally-damaging drilling concessions so early in the game. His drilling proposal, more modest than many of these individuals would like, may not be enough to win votes in the end.
While some believe that Obama’s proposal could free the country from dependence on foreign oil, The United States’ oil and gas reserves simply do not compare to the Middle East’s. Even suggesting that they do is a political façade. Rather than delude Americans into thinking that two to three years of (potentially forbiddingly expensive) oil and gas aids the energy crisis, Obama needs to focus on greater investment in sustainable, alternative energy solutions. The real problem lies in the United States’s heavy reliance on oil and fossil fuels, which generate greenhouse gases and particulate matter, which, in turn, cause serious health issues like asthma.
From an economic perspective, some may go so far as to argue that this oil and natural gas drilling will create jobs, in a time when many Americans are out of work. However, the administration would do much better to focus on generating green jobs. Promoting employment in the sustainability sector not only works to mitigate climate change but also provides workers with greater long-term job possibilities than a career on an oil rig.
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