The Obama administration says the massive oil spill along the Gulf Coast will be considered in a planned expansion of offshore drilling and will become part of the debate on climate change in Congress.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the cause of the oil rig explosion, still not determined, could affect what areas the government would open for future drilling.
But Gibbs and other officials said President Barack Obama remains committed to plans to expand offshore drilling to areas that now are off limits.
Obama has called for new offshore drilling in the Atlantic Ocean from Delaware to central Florida, plus the northern waters of Alaska. He also wants Congress to lift a drilling ban in the oil-rich eastern Gulf of Mexico, 125 miles from Florida beaches.
The administration hopes the drilling proposal — along with a call to ramp up construction of nuclear power plants — will attract some Republican votes on a bill to curb emissions of pollution-causing gases blamed for global warming.
"Obviously this will become part of the debate" on climate change, White House energy adviser Carol Browner said Friday.
The legislation backed by the White House aims to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It also would expand domestic production of oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., a drilling opponent, said he welcomed the White House statements indicating that the Gulf Coast spill would play a role in debate on the climate bill. White House officials had minimized the impact of the oil spill in the days immediately following the April 20 explosion.
"There are a lot of Americans — particularly in places where coastline drilling doesn't currently exist — who are watching the dramatic images from the Gulf and rethinking whether they would accept such a scene closer to home," Menendez said. "I hope today's statement is a signal that the White House is incorporating this reality into its approach to coastline drilling."
Menendez said he will work to ensure that the New Jersey shore never comes under a similar environmental threat.
"We have to find a way forward that is more about 21st century clean energy and less about oil," he said.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes said the type of explosion that led to the Gulf Coast oil spill is extremely rare, adding that oil rigs in the Gulf and other offshore sites are subject to close federal oversight.
"The president believes that reducing our dependence on foreign oil is a national security imperative. To achieve that goal, we have made historic investments in renewable energy," Hayes said Thursday at a briefing in Louisiana. "And as the president has long said, increased domestic oil and gas production must be part of our comprehensive energy strategy."
Obama has outlined "a thoughtful, scientifically grounded process" to determine which offshore sites are appropriate for exploration and development, and for assessing the potential risks and benefits of oil development, Hayes said.
Before production moves forward in a new region of the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic or the Arctic Ocean, the site will have to undergo an environmental analysis, with public comments and an examination of the potential risks and spill response capabilities in that area, Hayes said.
No lease sales would be scheduled until 2012 in new areas the administration is considering for oil development.
"Ultimately, the goal is to achieve energy independence," Hayes said, "because there is a risk inherent in leaving our energy supply in the hands of other nations."
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