Don't sweat (or cheer) lifting drill ban

Any new oil drilling off the East or West Coast won't happen until 2011, and may be immediately blocked by the next president.

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By Steve Hargreaves, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The lapse of the federal ban on offshore oil drilling doesn't mean sunbathers will have to contend with drill rigs near the beach next summer, nor does it mean a new era of energy independence is on the horizon.

Even though the House voted to let the ban on offshore drilling expire at the end of September, and the Senate looks likely follow suit, it will still take years before even the first lease is granted. And in the meantime, a new President could reinstate the ban with the stroke of a pen.

"If Congress doesn't back track, it will increase access, it will increase supply, and it will be good for the consumer," said Judy Penniman, a spokesperson for American Petroleum Institute. "But it's just a beginning."

"Nothing's going to change short-term off our coasts," said Athan Manuel, director of lands protection for the Sierra Club.

That's because the government agency the regulates offshore drilling, the Mineral Management Service, says it needs until at least the middle of 2011 to conduct the necessary environmental reviews and public hearings before it can issue any permits in areas currently closed to drilling - which include almost every mile off the east and west coast.

Prior to this summer, there were two bans restricting drilling in most federal waters off the U.S. coast, which run from 3 to 200 miles offshore. The bans were enacted largely due to environmental concerns following big oil spills in the late 1960s.

Even before the likely lapse of the drilling ban, the government was preparing to issue offshore permits.

President Bush lifted the executive ban earlier this year. When that happened, the president directed MMS to start making plans to issue leases, should Congress lift its ban.

"That will give the next administration some options," said Nic Pardi, a spokesman for MMS.

Environmentalists are concerned about the ban lapsing, noting the potential for spills that could spoil economically vibrant coastlines and saying the whole debate has distracted the nation from what it really should be doing - conserving energy and finding alternatives.

But they expect more restrictions once a new president takes office.

"Even John McCain doesn't want drilling 3 miles from shore," said The Sierra Club's Manuel.

Lifting the ban will be a defeat for Democrats. For the last six months they have fought an onslaught of Republican attempts to lift the ban in the face of rising gasoline prices and with public support for offshore drilling.

The Democrats have largely echoed the arguments of environmentalists - that drilling is distraction from the real problem of inefficiency and fossil fuel addiction. They also note that most offshore oil and gas is already available to oil companies, and any additional supplies will take decades to bring online and be too small to have any meaningful impact on oil prices.

The White House made it clear any new drilling provision was a non-starter," Drew Hammill, a spokesman for house speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement. "The future resolution of offshore drilling will have to be addressed with a new President."

In other energy news on the Hill, Senate Democrats fighting for tax breaks for renewable energy won a significant victory.

The Senate voted to renew $17 billion in renewable energy tax credits. The credits will extend to wind projects and most other renewable energy projects for a one-year period, and solar projects for an eight year period. The House is likely to pass the measure.

Renewable energy proponents had said a multi-year extension was important to boost investment in the sector.  To top of page

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