Pundits and commentators are scrambling to rationalize Obama's move: some say it's a political olive branch to conservatives, some say it's intended to help persuade moderates to consider comprehensive energy reform. Bradford Plumer notes at the Vine that it may be a preemptive measure to quell public furor when gas prices rise above $3 this summer, as they're expected to do.The move is certainly political--as noted just about everywhere, most of the oil won't be available for 10-12 years, and some of it likely never at all. And there's only 120 million barrels estimated to be found off the coast of Virginia--hardly enough to even put a dent in US dependence on foreign oil.
There's more here. I wish I understood the political calculus myself, but I don't. If I had to guess, I'd go with the preemptive-measure-to-quell-public-furor-over-future-gas-prices hypothesis.