Thank you Governor McAuliffe for opposing offshore drilling in ocean waters off of Virginia.
By Dave Mayfield
Aug 17, 2017
“Gov. Terry McAuliffe, reversing field on a controversial issue, has asked federal officials to take the ocean waters off Virginia out of contention for oil and gas leases.
The governor’s office disclosed McAuliffe’s position Thursday, making public a letter that he wrote last week to Kelly Hammerle, national program manager for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. McAuliffe asked that Virginia not be included in the 2019-24 Outer Continental Shelf leasing program.
The Democratic governor cited a budget proposal from President Donald Trump that would repeal a law under which states along the Gulf of Mexico share in federal oil and gas leasing revenue. He said this was a “clear indication” that the new administration has no plan to share leasing revenue with Virginia.
McAuliffe said that the Trump administration’s proposed cuts in funding for federal agencies responsible for protecting Virginia’s coastal environment added to his concern.
“In the absence of willingness by the federal government to work together and collectively reap the rewards of that collaboration,” he wrote, “Virginia is left with only one option.”
He said “the program as proposed does not adequately protect Virginia’s interests and we hope you will heed our request to exclude our coastal areas.”
McAuliffe had previously indicated his support for potential oil and gas exploration off Virginia, as long as the state shared in royalties. That led to Virginia initially being included in the first draft of the 2017-22 leasing program under President Barack Obama. But the state, the Carolinas and Georgia were deleted from the plan in its final version released last year.
Soon after taking office in January, Trump backed up his pledge during the presidential campaign to reopen the issue of drilling off the coast. Federal officials began, much earlier than normal, a new review of the leasing program.
The Trump administration also started reprocessing applications for seismic airgun surveys for potential oil and gas deposits along the Atlantic. The permits had been denied under Obama.
McAuliffe said in June that he’s “never had a problem” with seismic surveys. He didn’t address that subject in his letter to Hammerle last week.
How much weight McAuliffe’s new stance on oil and gas leases will carry is uncertain. Historically, a governor’s position has carried some weight, but there’s no obligation for the new administration to adhere to his wishes.
Environmental groups cheered McAuliffe’s letter. Caroline Wood, mid-Atlantic campaign manager for the group Oceana, called it a “significant shift.” She said that it completes a solid line of coastal states from New Jersey to South Carolina whose governors, an assortment of Democrats and Republicans, have declared opposition to offshore oil and gas leasing.
The positions taken by the North Carolina and South Carolina governors also marked reversals – their predecessors had been in favor of offshore exploration.
Wood said the elected bodies of 129 Atlantic Coast communities – including Norfolk and Virginia Beach and the Eastern Shore counties of Accomack and Northampton – have declared their opposition to offshore drilling or seismic tests. Opponents argue that the risk of environmental damage from oil spills outweighs any economic benefit from drilling.
Most coastal tourism associations, including in Virginia Beach, have taken anti-drilling positions. However, energy groups and some other business organizations, such as the Virginia Chamber of Commerce and Virginia Trucking Association, have said they favor exploration.
Miles Morin, the Virginia Petroleum Council’s executive director, said in a statement Thursday that “safe and responsible energy development off the coast of Virginia would bring millions, and potentially hundreds of millions, of dollars in investment and thousands of jobs” to the state.”