A Pro-Drilling Turn for President Obama?

It's an election year, prices at the gas pump are up, and the Obama administration has a track record of being hostile to almost all efforts to expand energy exploration and production at home. That, of course, can make for a rough road to reelection.

What to do?

Well, start ramping up the rhetoric to get people to ignore the facts, and instead believe that the administration is doing as much as it possibly can on the energy front. Tossing in an item or two that seems to go against type always helps as well.

Along those line, the U.S. Department of the Interior recent announcement about possibly allowing seismic surveys off part of the East Coast in 2013 amounts to nothing more than additional delaying tactics. In reality, the Ob`ma administration has eliminated any possibility of energy development off the Atlantic Coast until after a second four years of an Obama administration, if the President were to win reelection in November.

On April 2 came another announcement by the Interior Department, which asserted that the process for drilling on public lands would be accelerated under a new process, dropping the time period from 298 days to 60 days or less, according to an Associated Press report. The new procedures would be in effect by May 2013.

But doubts and problems remain. For example, as AP also reported, "Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which represents more than 200 companies working in the state, said the permitting process on federal land is overly burdensome and agencies are understaffed at present to deal with the rise in oil production in North Dakota and elsewhere. Ness said streamlining the permit process on federal land is welcome, ‘but proof is in the pudding.'"

Others voiced what might be called cautious optimism. Erik Milito, upstream director of API, explained, "Today's announcement sounds promising but we would suggest additional reforms are needed. We support any system that will ensure efficiency and a clear, consistent application process. Most important, the administration needs to streamline the multi-year timeframe for environmental reviews and open additional areas for responsible energy development."

A January 2012 study by EIS Solutions, done for API, found, "The decline in oil and gas leasing, permitting, and new drilling on the nation's public lands since 2009 have come at a high cost to America - namely, a significant loss of domestically produced oil and natural gas, thousands of jobs in the energy-rich western United States, and the forfeit of hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal tax revenues, royalties, and lease payments to western states and the U.S. Treasury."

After taking into consideration the economic downturn and the trend in development on private lands, the study points out: "These facts strongly suggest that the downturn in oil and natural gas activity on the nation's federal lands is due to something beyond the nation's difficult economic circumstances. A host of new rules, policies and administrative actions that are not conducive to oil and natural gas production on federal land are a culprit. The slowdown in new leases, permits and wells drilled on BLM lands is, in real part attributable to the direction of current federal land energy policy."

The Obama administration seems to want to have it both ways. The White House has danced to the anti-carbon-based-energy tunes being played by green extremists, while trying to disguise the realities of such wrongheaded policies with token changes and some political rhetoric.

However, President Obama's core hostility to energy development cannot be hidden. It seems he simply cannot help himself. For example, in a March 29 speech, the President declared, "Today, members of Congress have a simple choice to make: They can stand with the big oil companies, or they can stand with the American people."

That, of course, is an absurd statement based on the economic reality that oil firms need to work to meet consumer demand for energy. But the statement is not just about politics, either. It seems to be another reflection of the anti-business, anti-energy beliefs held deeply by this president.


Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council. His new book is "Chuck" vs. the Business World: Business Tips on TV.