Offshore drilling: Impact on Americans

By Jennifer Liberto, senior writer

WASHINGTON ( -- President Obama's plan, announced Wednesday, to expand oil drilling off the nation's coasts has the potential to lead to a slight easing in gas prices, more jobs and more money for cash-strapped government coffers.

It could also damage shorelines, according to environmentalists and some states that depend on tourism.

All experts agree any real impact is a long way off. While the first new Atlantic offshore oil and gas lease sale in some 20 years is slated to take place, putting drilling some 50 miles off the Virginia coast next year, it'll take 4 to 12 years to see any impact in domestic fuel production, according to government analysts.

Pocketbook: Despite the momentum that built for offshore drilling back in 2008, when gas prices rose above $4 a gallon, increasing domestic production isn't expected to impact gas prices all that much.

In fact, before he joined the Obama administration, assistant secretary of energy David Sandalow told some publications that "Drilling offshore to lower oil prices is like walking an extra 20 feet per day to lose weight."

Nobody really knows how much oil is beneath the nation's outer continental shelf or the rest of the Gulf of Mexico.

"I'm ready to drill on the offshore, I have no problem with that," energy magnate T. Boone Pickens told CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi on "CNN Newsroom." "But don't look for big reserves off the East Coast of the United States."

The Interior Department's Minerals Management Service suggests that 39 to 63 billion barrels of oil could be "recoverable" from the new areas that would be made available for drilling. At 2008 consumption levels, that would be enough to exclusively meet the U.S. thirst for oil for 5 to 8 years, according to the Department of Energy.

In the broader scheme of global production and consumption, future U.S. production is considered on the small side.

President Obama acknowledges that drilling, alone, is not a panacea for all the nation's energy problems.

"I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy," Obama said. "The only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term."

Jobs: But in the area of job creation, experts agree it could have a big impact, especially in terms of creating higher-paying jobs.

Again, estimates depend on the number of new rigs created. But it could lead to 25,000 people at work offshore, with salaries as high as $90,000, according to Michael Kearns, spokesman for the industry group National Ocean Industries Association.

"This will create jobs in the future, and this is good for business and good for people," said Anas F. Alhaji, chief economist at NGP Energy Capital Management, which supports drilling.

Although that industry already has room to grow. The oil and gas industry was hit particularly hard by a worldwide weakening in demand for oil that accompanied the recession. Oil and gas firms laid off hundreds of workers throughout the Gulf Coast."

Royalties: Another place that consumers can see an impact is through royalties. The federal government - and possibly some states if Congress agrees - could collect a portion of the revenue that comes from newly found, oil Kearns said.

That could be good news for cash-strapped states with gaping holes in the budgets. For consumers, that could mean fewer municipal programs slashed and fewer layoffs and furloughs due to budget cuts. However, such royalties aren't likely to start rolling in until after U.S. has recover from this economic recession.

Environment: Another big impact will be on the nation's shorelines. Already some lawmakers, including Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., say they oppose the expansion plans, because it threatens their beach and coastal industries.

Environmental groups say that the economic gain from drilling isn't worth damaging coast lines. They say more rigs, especially those close to the coast such as the one in Virginia, mean more spills and leaks from oil platforms and storage systems.

"There's sort of a right way and a wrong way of providing our nation's future energy needs," said Wesley Warren, program director at Natural Resource Defense Council, which opposes the expansion. "The right path is one that provides economic growth while providing environmental protections. The wrong path trades those two off."

--CNN senior correspondent Allan Chernoff and chief business correspondent Ali Velshi contributed to this report To top of page

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