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Obama 'Promise' Keeps Arctic Drilling On Table

On backing down, backing away, and backing into a corner . . .

President Obama’s statement, “I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago,” was one the more awkward sentences in his State of the Union speech, and not just syntactically.

The president had to use that particular construction, however, because he could not say what he should have and maybe even wanted to say: that he will not allow drilling in our coastal waters until he has such assurances. He couldn’t say that for the simple reason that his administration continues to approve oil drilling in the outer continental shelf almost as if the Gulf oil spill had never taken place.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska.

Despite ample opportunities to back away from the hell-bent-for-oil policies of the last administration, the president’s Interior Secretary has instead backed Obama into a corner where he has less and less room politically to do what he could have done when he first came into office and certainly should have done after the Gulf spill: freeze further oil activity in U.S. Arctic waters, at least until we know how to clean up a spill under Arctic conditions and have the infrastructure in place to do it.

Although this administration has one last opportunity to stop the madness, by rejecting Shell Oil’s oil spill recovery plan as falling short of the assurance the president wants, nothing his Interior Department has done to date gives cause for hope.

Instead, the most likely outcome is that the Obama administration will accept the promises of Shell Oil that it can contain 95 percent of an oil spill – an absurdly high number under any conditions, Arctic or otherwise -- and hope that there’s no spill on his watch.

If you think you’ve heard of that sort of assurance before but can’t think where, let me give you a hint: it was somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.