With President Bush completing his second term this year, the only thing we can be assured of in the November Elections is that we will see a new President inaugurated in 2009. Much has changed regarding the priorities of the Nation since our last Presidential election. While concerns remain over Iraq, national security and the economy, the ongoing debate over climate change and concerns over energy costs and gas prices (as well as long-term energy security) have become a focal point for voters.

The following is the first in an ongoing, non-partisan series of newsletters examining the positions each Presidential candidate has put forward on a number of hot topics in the energy and climate change arenas.

Today's topic: OFFSHORE DRILLING

Overview:

Offshore oil drilling has become a central issue in the energy debate. As gasoline and energy prices continue to rise, candidates are being asked to detail their solutions with offshore drilling considered by many to be a defining point on the issue as a whole.

Over the past few months, public support for offshore drilling has increased. Recent polls indicate that the majority of Americans now support offshore drilling. Even states historically opposed to offshore drilling have begun to see significant changes in public sentiment. Recent polls in California and Florida now indicate that a majority of citizens in those states would support offshore drilling.

Sen. McCain:

While Sen. McCain has opposed offshore drilling in the past, his position on this issue has reversed in recent months in the face of increasing energy costs and global insecurity from oil-producing countries. The Senator now supports lifting the current federal moratorium on drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf and allowing the decision to drill to be placed in the hands of the states. Sen. McCain continues to oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Sen. Obama:

Sen. Obama has also been previously opposed to offshore oil drilling, declaring that it is not a solution to our energy problems and would provide no immediate relief at the pump for consumers. More recently, he has softened his position on this issue, declaring that he would accept offshore drilling if it were necessary to pass a long-term energy plan that moved the U.S. away from fossil fuel consumption and toward the increased use of renewable energy sources. Sen. Obama also opposes drilling in ANWR.

Analysis:

As long as gas prices remain inflated, or if they indeed continue to rise, offshore drilling will likely continue to be a hot-button issue. This will be particularly true in coastal states, e.g. California, Louisiana, Florida and Virginia. Florida, in particular will be a key state in this debate as Floridians have historically opposed offshore drilling and the state looks to be a key swing state in November. Coastal states stand to gain revenues from developing offshore fields, and revenue sharing with non-coastal states has been raised as an option to gain their support in Congress.

Environmental opposition to offshore drilling is based on the fear of oil slicks washing up on our shores and beaches in the event of a hurricane, accident or other catastrophic incident. Recent history has shown that the technology to seal off wells in such events works, even when oil rigs have been displaced and floated off to sea as with Hurricane Katrina. In the eastern Canadian Maritimes, drilling has gone on safely for years, with sizeable volumes of oil and gas brought to market and sold to the U.S.

Developing resources in the U.S. would take some time; geologists are not even sure what the size and quality of the resource is, and bringing these resources to market will take several years. In addition to normal development schedules, oil companies are currently facing backlogs in securing additional oil rigs and this shortfall could add to the timeline in the delivery of these resources – even if the legal authority is provided.

Congressional Democratic leadership are now conceding that they will schedule a vote on some form of offshore drilling. Whether it passes or not, the Presidential campaign clearly has influenced the offshore drilling debate in Congress.