Gaius Publius: Obama Leasing Millions of Gulf Acres for Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

By Gaius Publius, a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States and contributing editor at AmericaBlog. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook. Cross posted from AmericaBlog

More and more it’s looking like Obama’s global warming and climate change “initiative” is just a legacy play. He says the right words, then does the wrong deeds.

I can’t think of another way to describe what we’re watching. Would a man who believed these words do those deeds? Let’s look at each, the words and the deeds.

Words First

First the fine words. Here’s Obama speaking to the bright-eyed grads at UC Irvine just this summer:

[S]ince this is a very educated group, you already know the science.  Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide traps heat.  Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years. …

We know the trends.  The 18 warmest years on record have all happened since you graduates were born.  We know what we see with our own eyes.  Out West, firefighters brave longer, harsher wildfire seasons; states have to budget for that.  Mountain towns worry about what smaller snowpacks mean for tourism.  Farmers and families at the bottom worry about what it will mean for their water.  In cities like Norfolk and Miami, streets now flood frequently at high tide.  Shrinking icecaps have National Geographic making the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart.

So the question is not whether we need to act.  The overwhelming judgment of science, accumulated and measured and reviewed over decades, has put that question to rest.  The question is whether we have the will to act before it’s too late.  For if we fail to protect the world we leave not just to my children, but to your children and your children’s children, we will fail one of our primary reasons for being on this world in the first place.

That’s pretty definite, right? The problem isn’t “North American” carbon vs. “foreign” carbon. The problem is (again):

“Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide traps heat.  Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years.”

Let’s now look at just the most recent deeds.

Now Deeds

On the deeds side of the ledger, Obama has just opened millions of acres of Gulf of Mexico to oil exploration. Here’s Steve Horn writing at the invaluable DeSmogBlog:

Not Just the Atlantic: Obama Leasing Millions of Gulf [of Mexico] Acres for Offshore Drilling

Deploying the age-old “Friday news dump,” President Barack Obama’s Interior Department gave the green light on Friday, July 18 to companies to deploy seismic air guns to examine the scope of Atlantic Coast offshore oil-and-gas reserves.

It is the first time in over 30 years that the oil and gas industry is permitted to do geophysical data collection along the Atlantic coast. Though decried by environmentalists, another offshore oil and gas announcement made the same week has flown under the radar: over 21 million acres of Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas reserves will be up for lease on August 20 in New Orleans, Louisiana at the Superdome.

On July 17, the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)  announced the lease in the name of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy.

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand safe and responsible domestic energy production, BOEM…today announced that the bureau will offer more than 21 million acres offshore Texas for oil and gas exploration and development in a lease sale that will include all available unleased areas in the Western Gulf of Mexico Planning Area,”proclaimed a July 17 BOEM press release.

The release says this equates to upwards of 116-200 million barrels of oil and 538-938 billion cubic feet of natural gas and falls under the banner of the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Hydrocarbon Agreement.  […]

Here’s what’s being “leased” (sorry, given away for a pittance … sorry, monetized by the billionaire oil and gas kings):

oil and gas leases map

Could this endanger tourism (not to mention livability) in the Texas coast towns of Port Isabel and South Padre Island? Horn again:

According to BOEM‘s Proposed Notice of Sale Package, dozens of blocks sitting in close proximity to both Port Isabel and South Padre Island will be auctioned off during the August 20 [2014] lease. Both Port Isabel and South Padre Island are vacation and tourist hot spots[.]

How should we think of this?

Does Obama Think None of That Oil and Gas will be Burned?

The question one almost has to ask is this — What does President Obama think will happen to the oil and gas extracted from under the Gulf?

That’s a serious question. Does he think it will not be monetized and burned, or that it will be monetized and burned? If it won’t be monetized, is he scamming the bidders? (But if so, where’s his plan for preventing what’s extracted from ending up in our air and some billionaire’s pocket?)

And if it will be monetized, what of his words, that “Burning fossil fuels release carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide traps heat.  Levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years”?

I honestly don’t know what to make of this drastic (and tragic, at least for us) disconnect, except to call it, as I did above, a “legacy play.” I did not want the first Black president in U.S. history to be one more sordid bringer of billionaire screwage — and world-historical screwage at that. But there it is.

The Obama Legacy Library

By the way, here’s what that screwage is buying. Bidding is now going on for Obama’s Legacy Library, with Chicago (natch) in the running. Here’s one proposal, by the Chicago architectural firm HOK (formerly Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum):



So forward-looking, it could be Starfleet Academy (do click; you’ll be surprised). Here’s another view:



See the peaceful happy people, playing in the Obama Legacy Library Park? You won’t see those faces on South Padre Island. And 20 years down the road, if Obama gets his way and Exxon gets its Obama-provided billions, those faces will look a tad bit more concerned than they do here. Here’s a hint of what’s in store for us if Obama and Exxon succeed.

Our Devolution Scenarios

Just a taste of where the descent from civilization, that gift of the narrow and stable Holocene climate, may take us. We start with our current civilizational state and work backwards:

The electronic age of wireless communication.

The electric age of power generation and transmission, including by coal and oil consumption.

The mechanical age of power generation, including by coal and oil consumption.

The animal age (beasts and slaves) of power generation.

The age of agriculture and small towns and cities.

The age of hunters and gatherers, our tribal past.

Extinction, as the planet sloughs us off.

As the social, economic and political stability of the planet degrades (if it does), where does our devolution stop? If carbon-burning never stops — and that’s clearly one of the choices on the menu — it’s hard to see our devolution stopping before we’re generating most of our power with our beasts and our backs.

Now consider, when the human world was young and we were coming from the Stone Age to the Iron Age and beyond, all the goods of the earth were close to the surface — iron, copper, tin. As we descend (if we do) to stone age living, where will we find these precious things again, to begin that long climb back? Perhaps only in landfills.

Time for Obama to Take Obama Seriously

All of which is meant to say — please, this really is a turning point and a tipping point in the economic, social and political world. Mr. Obama, take your words seriously and act as though you believe them. You can yourself stop many of those nasty carbon emissions from ever seeing the light of day.

▪ Stop selling coal leases on federal lands.

▪ Stop selling oil and gas leases off U.S. shores.

▪ Do these deeds now to demonstrate real commitment to limiting CO2 emissions. Control what you can control by your own unilateral action.

That’s the ask. Care to join me? Obama will have power for just a few years, and we have just a few years to use our power to influence him. In order to prevent him from destroying his legacy (and our American futures), he needs to know we’re watching.

Tell him we’re watching.

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  1. thepanzer

    “More and more it’s looking like Obama’s global warming and climate change “initiative” is just a legacy play. He says the right words, then does the wrong deeds.” …which really isn’t a legacy play. Obama is a fool and the rest of the DC bubble seems to think that climate change impacts will happen far out of their lifetime.

    Obama’s problem is he’s a relatively young man and with the lifespans our leaders typically have, with their access to quality healthcare, he’s going to have DECADES of explaining why he sat on his ass for 8 years and did nothing. Worse than nothing actually, as he seems to be trying to make things worse across the board.

    In thirty years time I wouldn’t be surprised to see an elderly Obama to face jail time given the likely socioeconomic upheaval in the cards over the next few decades. Climate change, resource depletion, the end of dollar supremacy and US hegemony, and a whole host of other issues will be converging at the same time and the public WILL be looking for scapegoats in the aftermath.

  2. James Levy

    He’s a lame duck with one foot out the door and yet he can’t help kicking the can down the road. Delay, delay, delay. I swear somewhere out there is a memo that all Dems are forced to read: NEVER level with the American people the way Carter tried to in 1979. The irony is that with all the people and all the resources devoted to “strategy” in Washington, no one can bring him or herself to say, “gee, the country that makes the switch from total dependence on fossil fuels first will have a distinct advantage over all the states locked into a dying energy regime.” You start to see how Tainter, Diamond, Mancur Olson and others are on track; once a society has invested all its eggs in one basket, it will stick with its choice no matter how counterproductive that choice becomes over time. As Kunstler says, it will start invoking magical thinking in a desperate defense of that which must not be questioned: that the suburban “happy motoring” lifestyle is, as Cheney said, “non-negotiable.” Every incentive is to lie, close our eyes, and go over the cliff. And 2008 convinces me that a serious setback for the system will no longer produce any change in behavior. Our nation is beyond learning–we know everything about everything and our way is the only way. I just pray I survive the fallout.

    1. Lambert Strether

      But you’ll have to get together with others to do that. And hence, the politics must necessarily change, in the course of doing that (unless you’re one of the guys in the woods. And not even then, really).

  3. pretzelattack

    we can ask, but he won’t listen. why would he suddenly do an about face? our only leverage was before the last election.

  4. DJG

    During the last presidential election, I realized that long ago I had had the chance to vote for Richard Nixon for president and didn’t. (Mirabile dictu.) So I voted for Jill Stein, the Green, for president. Petitioning Barack Milhous Obama to be anything but a peevish moderate/conservative and aspiring board member of GE is not worth your while. He isn’t saying one thing and doing another. He’s using the “liberal brand” to position himself to get what he wants and dressing it up in ooshy liberal icing of togetherness and self-esteem. As a leftist, I’m not-so-amazed as liberals sit still to be destroyed–they go all gaga for a hand-bump with a gay guy in a restaurant even as Barack Milhous presides over continuing serious economic decline. As a leftist, I’d offer: Let’s think of other things to do.

  5. Nat Scientist

    Financial Arbitrage, once a price-discovery mechanism, has evolved into Language Arbitrage where all new roads are made by BS bridges like M.C. Escher’s engineering. Net, net, bad economics sold to fools looking for free.

  6. cnchal

    Tell him we’re watching.

    His plutocrat masters are watching him even more closely, making sure he does as ordered. Otherwise they would have a malfunctioning president.

    1. James Levy

      You just wish his peevishness and arrogance would just once tell him to screw his paymasters and just do something useful, if only for his children. He’s guaranteed a pension, Secret Service Protection, and speaking fees (if not grandiose ones) for life, plus a lucrative book contract when he leaves office. He ain’t gonna starve. So why not get together a bunch of military and CIA analysts and say to the world: listen, climate change is real and here’s what’s going to happen in 20, 30, and 50 years. I propose we do X. If the bought men in the House refuse, you’ll know whose to blame. I let you know the truth and did my part. If they do nothing it’s because they are paid eunuchs in the employ of others.

      I mean, Obama is an angry, petty, spiteful little man at heart. He’s got to know these people hold him in contempt. Why not lash out at them, just once? Do it, Barak, it will feel oh so good.

      1. hunkerdown

        Secret Service protection that is supervised by the deep state, no doubt. If the deep state wants to pay him back for something, they will.

  7. susan the other

    Back in the 70s the US was at the forefront of the environmental movement. Our scientists were way ahead of the rest of the world. But very little has come as a result of our knowing what is wrong and how we should fix it. That makes it roughly 45 years in which we have taken no appropriate action. Forty-five years wasted by encouraging other countries to join us in a capitalist profiteering binge. The planet has been virtually destroyed. Far more worrisome than selling gas-oil exploration leases to a consortium of Mexican and American oil men is the disaster in Japan. Fukushima has the potential of gradually dosing the planet and everything on it with cumulative poisons that last beyond any hope for survival of even a single living thing. If we had governments, and people, that were not insane it is possible there could be some discussion of this dire situation. Even tho’ we do not have the technology today to fix it. We have allowed civilization to play around with a deadly technology that is “incomplete” in that if something goes wrong we are all toast. Things are going wrong all at once. The whole energy trap is depressing. Exploring for gas and oil perhaps less so on a scale of immediate disasters. But only because gas and oil are not as immediately deadly as plutonium. Our answer to this misery appears to be a military one. We are going to go to war in eastern Europe against Russia, according to PCR. An act of national mobilization that has nothing to do with saving our country and the world, but everything to do with perpetuating “capitalism” it seems. Why not? We’ve really got nothing left to lose.

    1. James Levy

      There are only a few possible answers to the questions that emerge from you post. Either the people how own and run things are 1) total morons, 2) know from their “big data” supercomputers that the situation is hopeless and are acting accordingly, or 3) see this coming and that ameliorating actions could be undertaken, but are frozen by fear of the unpopular consequences and made impotent by interests also aware of what is going on but that don’t care. I don’t see any other possibilities. I would like to know which is true. My deep fear is that #2 is the case and they know we’re doomed and are just having a big party at our expense before the world goes to hell and most of the human race dies.

      1. Lambert Strether

        The ruling class is divided by faction, dynasty, personality etc. There’s no reason these possibilities are mutually exclusive. However, I would tend toward #2, myself (with the addition that the crazier kind of techno-Utopian really believes in an escape to Mars) with this critical caveat on the Big Data computer: GIGO. “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas,” and the software will have been programmed with those ideas, which are unlikely to include, say, the heavy introduction of cooperatives, or the confiscation of dynastic wealth, or the “pitchforks” of which our Preznit once so eloqently spoke.

        1. James Levy

          Thank you for your considered attention to my posts. My stated lack of knowing is not a rhetorical trick–I really don’t know and that ignorance distresses me.

        2. Jeremy Grimm

          Even if possiblity #2 is the case — that things are hopeless — there remain ways to respond to and lessen the inevitable harm. If a disaster waits in our future no matter what we do, we can still take action to respond to that future disaster. Is water a problem? Find the best solution practicable today and work to get that solution in place for the future, AND not just here. We must assume the responsibility of helping others in the world without the knowledge or resources. What of food? We have a rough idea of the pattern of future hunger. We must establish infrastructure and policies to prevent as much starvation as we can, AND not just here. I’m ignorant of all the possible problems and their possible solutions — so forgive me if I stop now. The point is that even if nothing can be done to avert disaster, that does not mean that nothing can be done to lessen the harm that future disaster brings.

          So, we aren’t out of options, even in case of possiblity #2. The same “inertia” that constrains effective action to reduce carbon emissions is the same lack of will, the same selfishness, the same short-sighted view of the world that Option #2 might justify to cynics and the depraved. Option #2 offers no ‘bye’ to our silence and inactions, and no absolution for those who condemn our race to decline, possibly extinction.

          1. toldjaso

            #2 is the way to bet: “Apres moi le deluge” has been the mantra since BushCheney.

  8. Luke The Debtor

    People drive cars that run on gasoline. Gasoline is refined from oil. Supply and demand: Freshman Econ 101.

    1. different clue

      So tax the oil and gas more than now and use the money to build back the railroads/ trolley/ streetcar lines which were bought up and destroyed over several decades by a 3-way conspiraciy between Standard Oil of New Jersey, General Motors, and Firestone Tire and Rubber. Google “National City Lines” to see how it worked.
      As we get built back all the lines that were destroyed in America’s bonfire of the trains, trolleys and streetcars; we can raise the tax on gas and oil to such punitive levels that people will be driven to demand the rail travel which has been redeveloped for them.

    2. Rosario

      Who is supplying the demand? Where did the demand come from in the first place? We drive cars because an economy and society has been created (largely without our permission) that supplies cars as our form of transit above others that are more energy efficient. This is why supply and demand is a economic axiom that is only valid in an economic “vacuum”.

  9. different clue

    Obama was never Black anyway. He just cleverly learned how to play Black on TV.

  10. mark

    Obama, last time round, Washington Post oct 12 2010.

    “Obama’s expansive answer included a revealing aside about his confidence in the safety of offshore operations. “It turns out, by the way, the oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills,” the president told the questioner, a man from Charlotte. “They are technologically very advanced. Even during Katrina, the spills didn’t come from the rigs.”

    It was 18 days before BP’s Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 and leading Obama to halt new deep-water drilling under the just-lifted temporary ban – 18 days before the men calling the shots on the BP rig would demolish Obama’s assurances about the safety of extracting oil from depths no one had fathomed only 20 years ago.”

    I think we all know where Obama stands on climate change.

  11. Jeff Martin

    The dirty secret of American policymaking lies at the intersection of the environmental, energy, and foreign policy spheres. I’ve long joked, among friends, that the surest proof the American deep state will never implement, or permit to be implemented, any policy to redress global warming is the foreign policy of the deep state itself. That foreign policy aims to ensure that no state, or combination of states, on the Eurasian landmass, or North Africa, develops the capacity to act independently of the American-dominated international system; in other words, no nation or combination of nations should be permitted to possess the resource bases, developmental foundations, and economic independence by which American hegemony could be challenged. Different nations/blocs might require different tactical approaches, if this objective is to be kept in prospect of attainment; however, the essence of the strategy is to prevent any deepening of ties between regions of the Eurasian landmass, or between key players on that landmass – having associated economically, they might well find that geopolitical cooperation is also a positive-sum arrangement. Hence, the ‘pivot to Asia’, all about containing China; the deep state may well be principally responsible for China’s rise, but that was simply mid-match gambit, necessary to render quiescent the masses on the homefront – if you’ve got a manufacturing job pulling down an inflation-adjusted 40 bucks an hour, with a guaranteed pension, you can afford to challenge the system; under ‘flexible labour markets, not so much. Hence, the bloviations of the deep state’s archons, such as ZBig, about Europe’s ‘energy colonization by Russia’, along with the push for sanctions on Russia, fracking in Europe, and more drilling and fracking domestically.

    In other words, staying in the fossil energy game enables the deep state to preserve and extend American hegemony; by fragmenting the fossil energy networks, while ensuring that the US extracts rent from as many points as possible, the deep state can prevent the emergence of rivals, while rendering even allied states dependent upon the good will of the US. Fossil energy is a tool of power. In demanding a transition to cleaner energy sources, we’re demanding that the deep state not only surrender the tens of trillions of unrealized profits represented by reserves, we’re demanding that they relinquish power. If you want to redress global warming, you’ll have to deal with the deep state.

    1. different clue

      Luckily enough for the Deep State, the Russian government also supports global warming from its own fond belief that enough global warming will make Siberia into a high powered agricultural breadbasket powerhouse.

    2. Lambert Strether

      Once again, the term “ruling class” can be swapped in for “deep state” with no lossage other than a sense of faux profundity, and an increase in clarity. “It’s called the ruling class because it rules,” as Arthur Silber once trenchantly observed. There is also, for some, the advantage to be gained of knowing who your enemy actually is.

  12. Paul Tioxon

    If this report is correct the upward bound oil field estimate of “116-200 million barrels of oil” that may be an 11 day supply for the USA. At a $100/brl it’s $20bil. Does this sound like small potatoes, no matter how you want to pronounce potatoes? Being awarded the rights to this is exactly what? It will take more time to construct a deep sea rig in hurricane ally than it will have a useful life. And then, there is decommissioning cost.

    To get some perspective, Venezuela(2013 (billion barrels): 297.6) and Saudi Arabia (2013(billion barrels): 267.91) are the #1 and #2 proven reserves.

    They will be doing a lot of exploration, but will there be any drilling? Sounds like meaningless PR, a sop to say all of the above, we leave no stone unturned, we don’t knuckle under to right with our freedom killing coal plant rules and we don’t pay tribute to hippie tree huggers, we drill the GulF Coast, yeah, you heard us, balls to the walls with BP. We rule from the common sense middle, avoiding all extremes. Of course the naive thumb sucking cry babies will hold their breath, cry Corporate Fascism and blah blah blah.

  13. Jeremy Grimm

    “Zinn criticized Kennedy for his actions and inactions in 1961 and again in 1963 when the Senate had the opportunity, as it always does, at the beginning of each new session, to change its own rules and do away with the filibuster. Kennedy, Zinn had concluded, wanted to allow the racists to filibuster against civil rights.” —

    This bowing to a minority fillibuster seems like an old, even hackneyed trick in party politics to avoid taking actions. It allows the appearance of advocacy while intending defeat of that advocacy by the loyal opposition. The will of our true rulers be done.

    No OBOT can tell me that Obama would have done so much good, that was stopped by the Republicans. There is no lesser evil between our two main parties. Evil has two faces.

    1. hunkerdown

      These days they prefer to “don’t have the votes” (where not having the votes is the action they’re taking).

  14. Synapsid

    Gaius Publius,

    This lease offering of 21 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico is part of the Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program 2012-2017. The total offered is to be 219 million acres, I believe. There have been auctions (they are auctions, closed-bid if memory serves) in

    November 2012 (20 million acres);

    March 2013 (39 million acres);

    August 2013 (21 million acres);

    with three scheduled for this year, 2014, to be in the eastern, central and western Gulf of Mexico. There’s to be another in 2016, in the eastern Gulf.

    Hardly under the radar, GP.

    Many of the blocks offered receive no bids at all; those that do supply a good deal of money to the Treasury, in the billions so far would be my guess. The OCS leasing program has had no effect at all that I can see on Republican claims that Obama is anti-energy and trying to throttle the oil industry.

    The present administration has also granted more drilling permits than Bush did.

    Government spokespeople will point out that all this activity means jobs, and tax income for local, state and Federal use, and that is correct, and often will refer to the myth of energy independence too, though not as a myth.

    1. Synapsid

      Gaius Publius,

      I am a doddering oldster and have yet to successfully post links or manage anything beyond the simplest. google Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program and you will find the data, I expect. That’s how I updated, a while back.

      I’d welcome any corrections to my post.

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