The Obama administration's plan to expand domestic offshore drilling for oil and gas is, of course, far more nuanced than the familiar Republican campaign slogan.
Areas that will be opened to exploration include part of the Atlantic seaboard, running from Delaware down to central Florida. The permitted portion of the Gulf of Mexico will be expanded eastward, while maintaining a 125-mile buffer from the Alabama and Florida coast. Finally, parts of the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea offshore Alaska will also be fair game, following detailed studies.
The Northeast coast, from Maine down to New Jersey, will remain off limits, as will the entire Pacific coast. As a resident of California, whose fiscal situation is downright depressing, I find that latter exemption to be indefensible. My surfer friends would probably disagree.
It seems there is enough in the proposal unveiled today to make everyone a little unhappy, no matter what his or her position on offshore drilling. You would think that a political compromise such as this would seek the opposite -- to make everyone at least a little happy -- but that's just not possible, given the hard lines that have been drawn in this debate. Environmental groups and oil lobbying groups are both professionally petulant pains in the posterior, always ready with an over-the-top outcry when something doesn't go 100% their way.
As far as energy security goes, we're not going to see any incremental oil and gas production anytime soon as a result of this new drilling plan, but that's no reason not to get started. If Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-A ) ally Codexis or ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) partner Synthetic Genomics finds a cost-competitive oil alternative in the next few years, we can always scrap these drilling plans. If we're stuck with hydrocarbons for decades to come, as I believe we will be, then we'll have a great need for this incremental oil, and we'll be glad we didn't wait for oil to spike to $150 before getting off our duffs.
Let's get to the investment angle here. Who are the big winners under this proposal, and who gets a raw deal?
Well, those with an eye cast to the California coastline, like Venoco and Plains Exploration & Production (NYSE: PXP ) have little to celebrate. Gulf of Mexico explorers like Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) and Mariner Energy will get an expanded opportunity, though I'm not sure anyone has really been chomping at the bit to push eastward.
As for the Atlantic coast, it's impossible to say who will show up to play. What we do know is that in all of these areas, extensive seismic shoots will be required to get a handle on the potential prize. That's a nice bit of extra business for folks like Schlumberger (NYSE: SLB ) and CGG Veritas (NYSE: CGV ) . Once prospects have been identified, the benefits begin to accrue to drillers like Transocean (NYSE: RIG ) and support companies like Hornbeck Offshore Services. The oil services industry is the clearest near-term beneficiary, and that translates not only to profits for investors, but an expanded local jobs market as well.
So does Obama's plan to open up our coastlines to drilling go too far, or not far enough? Let's explore the issue in the comments section below. I expect this to be a lively discussion.