A year ago, increased offshore oil drilling seemed like a dead issue. The Deepwater Horizon drilling platform had exploded, and hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil were spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

But memories are short, particularly among proponents of increased drilling off the nation's coasts. And with the price of gasoline once again coming close to $4 a gallon, there is a renewed push in Congress to expand offshore drilling.

Indeed, even U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, the 2nd District Republican who has traditionally opposed expansion of offshore drilling, voted yes last week on a measure to reopen drilling sites in the Gulf and, more ominously, to allow drilling off Virginia.

LoBiondo told the Associated Press that he "voted to expand domestic production of oil/natural gas to address rising gasoline prices."

That's disappointing. A spill off Virginia could very well result in oil-fouled beaches in South Jersey, which would be disastrous for the state's $35.5 billion-a-year tourism industry.

Why not expand offshore drilling in the face of $4-a-gallon gasoline, which could have its own negative effects on the state's tourism industry and the nation's economic recovery?

Well, first of all, an expansion of offshore drilling would not have any immediate effect on current gasoline prices. Nor is it a sure bet that increased offshore drilling would lead to any longterm stabilization of domestic gasoline prices. Oil is an international commodity, the price of which is affected by a virtually endless list of variables.

Expanding offshore drilling now in reaction to a temporary spike in gas prices is an emotional, politically popular response. But a very risky one for coastal South Jersey.

We won't even bother to make the environmental argument - the heartbreaking damage to sea life and coastal flora and fauna that an offshore oil spill would cause. We'll stick to dollars and cents:

A major oil spill off the East Coast of the United States would cause economic damage that would last for decades. This region, and many others like it up and down the coast, relies on tourism. To put that industry, that revenue and those jobs at risk because gasoline prices are exceptionally high right now is a grave mistake.

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