Virginia Wants Offshore Drilling, Interior Department Drags Its Feet

Don’t tell Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell that President Barack Obama’s administration is opening up vast amounts of offshore acreage for exploration.  He fully supports drilling off the Virginia coastline but the federal government has its heels dug in and is ignoring his pleas. "For too long, the Obama administration has hindered the development of valuable domestic energy resources located off the Virginia coast which provide the potential for a safe, cost-effective and economically viable source of domestic energy production for our state and for the nation,” McDonnell said in a press release on Feb. 2, following the passage of legislation by the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee to open new offshore areas. On Jan. 26, during a speech in Las Vegas, President Obama said, “We’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration.  Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.  Eight years.  Last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of last 16 years.  We’re moving in the right direction when it comes to oil and gas production. “And today, I’m announcing that my administration will soon open up around 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for additional exploration and development, which could result in a lot more production of domestic energy,” he added. But, are these really “new” acres for oil and gas exploration and production?  The acres are not new according to the National Oil Industries Association (NOIA). “We’re pleased to hear that the long delayed Central Gulf of Mexico sale will finally occur in June.  Sales are an essential step in providing much needed American jobs and energy, not only in the Gulf of Mexico, but across the country,” said Randall Luthi, NOIA president. “However, this sale has been on the books since 2007 under the current five-year plan.  It’s nothing new, nor is the claim that 75% of the resources on the OCS are open to development. It is just smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that we’re still exploring in the same areas we have been for the past 30 years,” he emphasized. On the Dept. of the Interior’s website, it was noted that the agency manages 1.7 billion underwater acres of Outer Continental Shelf.   Let’s see, 75% of that is 1.27 billion acres.  And, Pres. Obama was bragging about 38 million acres (2.2%) in the Gulf of Mexico.  And, most of that acreage has been offered multiple times. The Virginia governor, a Republican, and the state’s two U.S. senators -- Mark Warner and Jim Webb, who are Democrats -- support opening up the acreage offshore Virginia. The legislation introduced by the U.S. House committee was passed on a bipartisan vote of 25 to 19 and would reopen the area offshore Virginia. “In his State of the Union speech last month, the president stated that the road to economic prosperity and energy security for our nation must be built upon an 'all of the above' approach to responsible energy exploration and production,” McDonnell stated. “That is the approach our nation needs. That is the approach Virginia supports. We must utilize all of our domestic energy resources, from oil and gas and coal and nuclear, to wind and solar and biomass, to generate energy and create new jobs for our citizens. As part of this comprehensive approach, we should utilize the offshore oil and gas deposits available right here off the coast of Virginia,” he continued. And, the governor knows the value of oil and gas exploration and development to the state.  In a 2010 study, it was estimated that offshore oil and natural gas exploration and production in Virginia could create 1,900 new jobs, add $365 million to the gross domestic product and provide $19.5 billion in new government revenues at the federal, state and local levels. “We need more energy, and we need more jobs. Offshore energy production will help provide both. It is an important component of the all-of-the-above approach that the president has advocated, and Virginians support,” he added. The president backs Virginia’s request.  Congress backs Virginia’s request.  And, what is the Dept. of the Interior’s (DOI) position on this?  Well, because of the U.S. Navy base at Newport News, VA, the entire area is being saved for naval exercises. McDonnell even had a “informal” conversation with DOI Sec. Ken Salazar about the leasing program.  Salazar gave him the same excuse.  Given that the U.S. military is the largest user of fossil fuels in the country and that the president ordered more lease sales, you would think that the Secretary of the Interior would be more interested in opening up more offshore acreage to finding oil. The legislation introduced in the House, though, deals with “the treatment of lease sale blocks that conflict with important military training areas,” McDonnell said.  "I think it's a huge missed opportunity for energy independence." In a separate interview reported by the Associated Press, Salazar was said to have stated that seismic testing is planned for a triangular area off Virginia to assess how much oil and gas is there. Somebody should tell Salazar that drilling is the only way you can find out if oil and gas is there. Contact the author, Scott Weeden, at sweeden@hartenergy.com.