Virginia Opts Out of Offshore Lease Program

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Published Aug 19, 2017 9:08 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Governor in the U.S. state of Virginia has changed his mind about offshore drilling.

Terry McAuliffe reverted from his previous support for offshore oil drilling last week, saying that he now wants the Atlantic Ocean waters off his state excluded from the upcoming five-year federal leasing program.

In a letter to Kelly Hammerle, national program manager of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, McAuliffe cited both economic and environmental concerns. 

“President Trump’s proposal to end the revenue sharing agreement with the Gulf States is a clear indication that we cannot trust the President to give Virginia its fair share of the revenues that would result from offshore exploration,” says McAuliffe. “Additionally, the President’s administration is actively working to cut funding from the very agencies that would be charged with protecting Virginia’s coastal environment in the event that exploration went forward.”

The letter says that with the Trump administration’s “reckless actions” regarding oil revenue-sharing with coastal states and the proposed cuts to funding for regulatory environmental agencies, “Virginia is left with only one option.” 

The Democratic governor wrote the BOEM official on August 11, but only released the letter Thursday.

The Bay Journal says that in May 2013, while campaigning for governor, McAuliffe backtracked on an earlier pledge to support only offshore development of natural gas reserves, which he considered safer, and joined Virginia’s two U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, also Democrats, in supporting offshore oil development.

His support came with the proviso that any earned income would be shared between the federal government and Virginia. 

Offshore drilling in the Atlantic had been banned for decades until the Obama administration lifted it in early 2010, saying it was needed to boost the domestic fuel supply. The Deepwater Horizon spill occurred a few months later, but it wasn’t until Obama’s final month in office that he reinstated the ban as a result of Donald Trump's election pledge to unleash U.S. fossil fuel production. On April 28, Trump signed an executive order overturning Obama’s drilling ban.

McAuliffe has now joined a growing list of states and localities taking a stand against offshore oil. According to the Bay Journal, he had been urged to make the move by organizations such as the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, an organization backed by 41,000 coastal businesses and half a million commercial fishing families from Maine to Florida.

The letter is available here.