November 8, 2011
Virginia political leaders criticized the Obama administration's decision Tuesday to keep the state out of the latest five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan, calling it an economic blow to the state.
The bipartisan disappointment followed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's cautious approach to opening more areas in the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska, leaving the East Coast and Virginia out of the running to explore underwater energy reserves. The administration initially said it would explore drilling in the Atlantic.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who has pushed hard to open waters off Virginia to oil and gas exploration, cast the decision as undermining the state's ambitious energy policy and job development, and he sharply criticized the Obama administration. He urged Congress to pass legislation introduced by Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner to allow exploration off Virginia.
"Today's decision will prevent the creation of thousands of new jobs for our citizens," McDonnell said in a statement. He has made offshore oil and gas exploration a key component of his quest to make Virginia the East Coast's energy leader.
He called the decision "another glaring example of the abysmal failure of the Obama administration to develop a comprehensive national energy policy."
Democrats Webb and Warner urged the Obama administration to reconsider its decision.
"As we work to address our energy future here in Congress, it is important to note the administration's existing authority to include Virginia in the current five-year lease plan, and I once again urge the president to exercise that authority," Webb said.
Warner expressed similar sentiments, calling the announcement a disappointment because "the development of offshore energy resources has broad support from Virginians and among the bipartisan elected leadership of the state."
Each said they would push their offshore leasing plan, which provides revenue sharing for Virginia.
Virginia had been banking on a lease sale of offshore tracts by 2012, but planned East Coast exploration was delayed at least until 2017 after the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.
The current exploration area about 50 miles off Virginia's coast encompasses 2.9 million acres. The government estimates the area can produce 130 million barrels of oil and 1.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
Seismic studies haven't been conducted in those waters off Virginia in decades and industry estimates forecast much higher gas and oil reserves than previously thought, based on new exploration technology.
Environmentalists are skeptical, and contend offshore drilling is an Environmental risk to tourism and fishing. They argue that estimates of oil and gas potential off Virginia represent a just sip compared to the nation's big thirst for energy.
The Environmental group Oceana called the decision "good news for the Atlantic coast. However, the Arctic and the Gulf are still in harm's way," said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana.
"We still have not learned our lesson from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which continues to foul the Gulf of Mexico," she said in a statement.