Apparently, an increase in offshore drilling is still on the policy table, which suggests Obama is taking a more rational approach to energy policy than many of his colleagues. Without question, offshore drilling cannot provide ‘energy independence’ (a ludicrous concept, but that’s for another day), but there are numerous benefits and only a trivial downside.
Drilling in the areas now restricted (offshore Florida, the East Coast, and especially California) would provide a number of new jobs, additional oil and gas production, and taxpayer revenues. None would be earth shattering, but magic bullets are few and far between.
More notably, the downsides are few. Some environmentalists express fear of oil spills, but this worry is misplaced. Only one major oil spill has occurred due to offshore drilling: Santa Barbara in the late 1960s. The industry has advanced since then, and massive operations offshore have seen no further major spills. (I am not suggesting the industry should not be regulated or monitored.)
In fact, the worst spills are those from oil tankers, and producing less oil domestically means more tankers in the waters, thus the danger of a catastrophic spill is actually enhanced by not drilling offshore. Although only about half of the world’s oil is transported by tanker, the National Academy of Science estimates that four times as much is spilled from tankers as from exploration.