The Politics of Oil (Spills)

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The White House turned its mid-day briefing into a press conference about the massive oil spill in the Gulf. Clues about how the mess will play politically are beginning to seep out. Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said the leaking underwater oil well is a “spill of national significance” as the Obama Administration inserted itself into the cleanup effort. The Department of Defense will assist in the frantic containment efforts now underway. The slick itself could reach the Gulf coast in days, according to officials.

The timing of the spill – caused by an explosion on a platform above the well that’s gushing 5,000 barrels of crude per day – is noteworthy. President Obama recently announced that he supports expanding offshore drilling. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that offshore drilling is safer than in the past and stopped short of calling for a ban on expansion of the practice. Democratic Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, meanwhile, sent Obama a letter, asking that the Administration “immediately halt” “test wells and all other exploratory operations in coastal waters.” He also said he’s drafting legislation that would “for the time being” prohibit the Interior Department’s plan to expand offshore drilling.

In light of this recent disaster, which appears to be growing more dire by the minute, the Obama Administration’s push for more offshore drilling is sure to come under more scrutiny, as will critics who said the President did not go far enough in open areas to exploration.