Offshore drilling refers to the practice of drilling a well to extract underwater oil and gas resources. The term is generally used in reference to oil drilling in ocean waters but offshore drilling also includes drilling in lakes and inland seas.
In 1981, Congress banned offshore drilling for oil and gas in much of the federal waters off America’s coastlines and President George H.W. Bush in 1990 issued executive orders supporting the 1981 ban and restricting federal offshore leasing to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and parts of Alaska. His son, President George W. Bush, rescinded the executive orders in July 2008 but the ban remains in place due to the federal law passed by Congress.
Major offshore drilling installations are located in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, West Africa, Southeast Asia, in the coast of Russian Far East, and in the Campos and Santos basins off the coast of Brazil.
The focus of environmental concerns surrounding offshore drilling have to do with the potential to spill oil into the ocean waters and onto the shore during the drilling process and while the oil is being transported back to the coast via tanker or pipeline. In addition, the drilling can potentially disrupt the marine and ocean ecologies.
On March 31, 2010, President Obama proposed to expand U.S. offshore oil and gas drilling dramatically, potentially opening up large swaths of the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska.
The proposal would end the moratorium on offshore drilling from northern Delaware to central Florida, and would also expand operations off the Gulf Coast and launch energy exploration into the Chukchi and Beaufort seas in the Arctic Ocean. Alaska's ecologically sensitive Bristol Bay would stay off-limits.
Obama hinted at the possibility during his State of the Union address in January 2010, when he mentioned the need to make "tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development."