National Commentary

Despite Governor’s Claims, Oil Drilling Hurts Virginia

As the ongoing crisis in the Gulf demonstrates, despite technological advances, oil drilling remains a dirty, dangerous and environmentally risky endeavor. It’s a risk simply not worth the reward. In light of the BP blowout, I have been urging Governor McDonnell to reassess pursuing drilling off Virginia’s coast and to start identifying real solutions to the Commonwealth’s energy needs and transportation shortfalls.

Over a month after the BP rig went down (on Earth Day, April 22nd), between 27 million and 150 million gallons of oil have been released into the Gulf. It dwarfs the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster – long considered the biggest oil spill in American history – which spilled 11 million gallons into Alaska’s waters.

One might assume that Governor McDonnell and other outspoken proponents of drilling off Virginia’s coast would change their minds given the Gulf situation. Not so. Instead, the Governor has yet to back off on his call for drilling and continues to claim drilling revenue can make up for major shortfalls in the state’s transportation budget.

This despite the fact that Virginia would receive no money from any drilling activities because they occur in federal waters. And even in the unlikely situation that Congress voted to allow Virginia to collect a percentage of the profits, it would likely be a decade before any drilling activities produced revenue.

More important to Virginia’s economic health are the military’s operations at Norfolk Naval Station, which are critical to the Tidewater area, generating thousands of jobs and millions state revenue. For years the Navy has issued general statements that they would be opposed to drilling in the Virginia Capes area where they conduct extensive submarine and munitions training exercises. Last week, they provided my office with a detailed, definitive position.

Because we’re nearing the end of the Interior Department’s five year “Oil and Gas Leasing Program Plan” which, in 2012, would open up an area of Virginia Capes to drilling, also known as “Lease Sale 220,” the Department of Defense decided it was time to conduct a more thorough review. Their conclusion: nearly 80 percent of the proposed lease area must be off-limits to drilling.

Virginia can be leader in energy production. But it shouldn’t be a 20th century source like oil. We have some of the best areas in the world for wind power production, both in the western part of the state and off-shore in locations with clearance from the military. That should be the Governor’s energy priority, not risking our economy and our environment in the pursuit of oil.

Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.