Obama’s Oil Drilling Proposal

According to a New York Times article, the Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the Eastern Gulf of Mexico and the North Coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time.

The proposal may have significant political, economic and environmental implications that, despite being far away from UC Irvine, still create an outlet for discussion and debate among professors and students.

Professor of Community & Environmental Medicine, Robert F. Phalen shed perspective on the issue by emphasizing that coal and oil are the only affordable types of energy besides nuclear energy.  He went on to explain that coal, however, is far dirtier than oil making.

“[Oil drilling is] the lesser of the two evils,” Phalen said.

Phalen’s worries for oil drilling include the rise in pollution and the risks of a catastrophic event due to carelessness.

Rashmi Guttal, a first-year English major and ASUCI intern under the Executive Vice President’s office as a legislative liaison, voiced her concerns about the proposal.

“We need to take the time and effort to figure this out before going forward with it,” Guttal said.  “Oil spills can be more preventable with caution.  There’s a negative outcome to everything and accidents happen.”

Phalen also pointed out that shipping oil from overseas is a much bigger risk than drilling off shore.  The environmental impacts of oil spills from shipping can be derived from numerous past incidents such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

A more recent accident off the shore of Louisiana prompted Professor and Chair of the Department of Planning, Policy & Design, David Feldman, to recognize occupational and environmental risks of oil drilling.

Though most of the risk would be imposed on marine life, Feldman pointed out possible human risk due to the explosion off the Louisiana shore and contamination to coastal fishing as with Exxon in Alaska.

On a more political front, Phalen expressed that the continuation of oil production is necessary due to America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Guttal agreed, stating, “I think it is a good idea because our foreign dependence on oil is a problem.  Oil is so controversial and we are getting it from the Middle East and Venezuela, two places we are not well off with. I would like to see America gain more independence on the issue.”

According to Feldman, the Obama Administration’s proposal for drilling expresses their commitment to energy policy.

Economically, Feldman signified that the new areas for domestic oil drilling “[won’t] even make a dent now” but will probably help in the long run, in approximately five to seven years.

Guttal shared similar views.

“As an environmentalist myself, the present outcome of drilling may seem grim, but in the long term I believe it will be very beneficial to the U.S. as a whole,” Guttal said. “This isn’t a democratic or republican issue, it is about America’s dependence on foreign oil.”

Phalen expressed that the high prices of crude oil gives way to the supply problem America faces, so more drilling is a good idea.

Phalen also referred to the basic ethics principle in which one must analyze if the benefits greatly outweigh the risks as a decision-making process that he feels should be used for this issue.

The decision for off shore drilling does not seem to be based off this approach. The New York Times reported that Obama’s oil drilling initiative is a part of political bargaining, with which he hopes to win over both republican and modern democratic votes for the upcoming climate bill.