August 17, 2017
By Dave Mayfield
Gov. Terry McAuliffe, reversing field on a controversial issue, has asked federal officials to take the ocean waters off Virginia out of contention for a possible oil and gas lease.
The governor’s office disclosed McAuliffe’s position today, making public a letter that he sent last Friday to Kelly Hammerle, national program manager for the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. In the letter, McAuliffe asked that Virginia not be included in the 2019-2024 Outer Continental Shelf leasing program.
The Democratic governor cited a budget proposal from President Donald Trump that would repeal a law that gave states along the Gulf of Mexico a share of federal oil and gas leasing revenue, saying this was a “clear indication” that the new administration has no plans to share leasing revenue with Virginia.
McAuliffe said that the Trump administration’s proposed cuts in funding for “the very agencies that are responsible for ensuring compliance with statutory safeguards and environmental protections” 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 from the activity. That led to Virginia initially being included in the original draft of the 2017-2022 leasing program under President Barack Obama. But the state, the Carolinas and Georgia all were deleted from the plan in its final version released last year.
Trump, soon after the Republican billionaire took office in January, 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.