Virginia Debates Offshore Drilling

Elizabeth River, Virginia

By The Maritime Executive 02-21-2018 07:19:55

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) held a public meeting in Virginia on Wednesday to discuss offshore drilling, sparking debate on the merits of the government's plan.

The Trump administration is pushing to open nearly all the coastal areas in the U.S. and the BOEM meeting is part of a 60-day public comment period on the Trump administration's five-year program (2019-2024) for oil and gas development. The draft plan lists 47 potential lease sales off the U.S. Atlantic and Pacific coasts, which would be the largest number ever proposed.

Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Virginia Pilot: “Even if we can persuade President Donald Trump to spare us from the direct threat of oil spills along our beautiful coastline, we’ll still suffer the effects of this drastic plan to turn the nation’s oceans into oilfields.

“Most obviously, opening the Arctic to drilling means more carbon pollution spewed into our atmosphere, which will increase global warming and sea-level rise. Melting ice is bad for us as well as polar bears.

“In my lifetime, the sea level in Norfolk has risen eight inches. That means the live oaks along the water in my neighborhood are dying, and neighbors tired of flooding are moving out. More drilling gives Norfolk less time to figure out how to deal with these changes.

“Military training may not be affected directly, with any luck, because there won’t be an oil rig off Virginia Beach. But for our neighbors and friends who are in the military, drilling in the Arctic is going to result in climate change around the world, which affects their missions by destabilizing nations.”

In contrast, the Virginia Petroleum Council says offshore exploration can bring jobs, consumer benefits and economic growth to Virginia. Virginia Executive Director Miles Morin said: “Interior’s offshore proposal is a critical first step to advancing a strong energy future for Virginia. Not only can offshore energy exploration and development help provide reliable and affordable energy for Virginia’s consumers, but it can also be the cornerstone for economic growth and investments in our state.

“It’s a first step, because we don’t have a clear picture of what energy resources exist off the coast of Virginia, as the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf hasn’t been explored for more than three decades. Over the last decade, however, industry has developed advanced technologies that enhance the safety of exploring the ocean – minimizing harm to marine life and the ocean environment.  

“There is also a long track record of operating offshore in a way that doesn’t interfere with our military activities. This will allow us to accurately determine what our energy resources are and analyze what steps should be taken to secure our energy future.

“Safely producing our offshore energy resources also strengthens our national security and makes the U.S. more energy secure. Virginians could also see increased revenue to invest in priorities like public education and infrastructure, and more well-paying jobs means more money being spent at shops, restaurants and businesses around the state. Higher paying jobs and investments in the state can also go hand-in-hand with offshore energy production – a benefit that should be welcomed by our communities.”

Protests Across the Nation

Earlier this month, more than 200 protesters from across South Carolina shouted their opposition to offshore drilling before a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management meeting to inform the public on plans to offer leases off that state's coast.

At least 15 governors of coastal states have publicly opposed the administration’s plans for offshore drilling. For example in January, Governor Rick Scott secured a commitment from Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to remove Florida from future consideration for offshore drilling. Rhode Island’s governor is calling for an all-out effort to oppose President Trump’s plan for offshore drilling along the Eastern seaboard. 

Across the nation, another protest rally was held in California this month. California has long banned new exploration in state waters within three miles of shore, and the White House under Barack Obama added restrictions in federal waters. The Trump administration’s new five-year plan calls for leases to once again be offered.