Offshore oil rigs as seen from Huntington Beach California.

President Obama is expected to propose today that areas off the southern US Atlantic coastline, in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska be opened to oil drilling, according to news reports.

The new Interior Department rules would end a longtime ban on East Coast oil drilling south of New Jersey to the central coast of Florida – representing 167 million acres of ocean. The East Coast from New Jersey north and the entire California coast would remain off-limits to new drilling. Alaska’s Bristol Bay would be exempt, but nearly 130 million acres of the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska would be opened to exploration and drilling.

“The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” the New York Times writes.

Those first two make some sense, but the latter … well, we’ll see. Congress is expected to soon begin debating legislation intended to counter climate change, so it may be clear in the near future whether or not Obama’s concessions to the oil and coal industry buy him support for effective measures intended to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Whether the concessions – in this case, more oil rigs marring the view and increased risk of oil and toxic chemical pollution in the ocean – are worth it are yet another matter.

Either way, Obama has public support for the move. The last national poll about offshore oil drilling found that 63 percent of Americans favor allowing more offshore drilling in US waters, with 74 percent of Republicans, 66 percent of independents and 54 percent of Democrats on board.

Those number probably don’t reflect the opinions of surfers, who spend a lot of time floating in water that’s already of questionable quality and who may not appreciate an oil platform blocking their view of the ocean horizon. (For an example, look for the rigs in the background in the Rincon segment in our first video feature.)

About 880,000 gallons of oil enter the ocean from US drilling operations each year, according to Surfrider Foundation. From 1995 to 2010, the U.S. Mineral Management Service recorded 183 spills in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean, and the US Department of the Interior estimates that every 3 to 4 years, a spill of at least 10,000 barrels is expected to occur.

In response to the Obama administration’s proposal to expand drilling, a post on the Surfrider website declared that “Obama Caves on Offshore Drilling.”

“Thirty years of marine protection came to an end when the Obama Administration announced that it will be opening up the mid-Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and north coast of Alaska to new drilling for oil and gas,” the foundation wrote.

More to come, no doubt.

(Full disclosure: I’m a member of Surfrider Foundation.)

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