August 17, 2017
Gov. Terry McAuliffe, at various points in his political career an opponent and proponent of oil-and-gas drilling off Virginia’s coast, told the federal government Thursday that he opposes including Virginia waters in the new leasing program being assembled by President Donald Trump’s administration.
“A primary concern that must be satisfied in order for Virginia to be included in the leasing area is a revenue-sharing agreement between participating Atlantic Coast states and the federal government,” McAuliffe wrote to the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. “Today we are no closer to resolving this issue than when I became governor.”
The bureau is in the middle of drawing up a new oil-and-gas leasing program for 2019-2024, a plan that could include the Atlantic and will replace the existing 2017-2022 program.
Though former President Barack Obama’s Interior Department ultimately opted to exclude the Atlantic from the program it put together, Trump’s administration reversed course, rescinding an order prohibiting seismic surveying in the Atlantic and opening up a public comment period for the new leasing program that ends today.
A draft proposed program will go out for public comment later this year, said Tracey Moriarty, a BOEM spokeswoman.
McAuliffe, a Democrat, requested that Virginia be excluded from the leasing program. He noted that Trump’s proposed budget includes a repeal of the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which provides the framework for sharing 37.5 percent of revenues from the outer continental shelf, including production royalties, with Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. That money goes to coastal conservation, restoration and hurricane protection projects.
“The commonwealth cannot be beholden to the reckless actions of a federal government that refuses to acknowledge the legitimate and necessary role states play in driving the national economy,” McAuliffe wrote.
“This concern is heightened where President Trump’s proposed budget also includes cuts to the very agencies that are responsible for ensuring compliance with statutory safeguards and environmental protections. In the absence of willingness by the federal government to work together and collectively reap the rewards of that collaboration, Virginia is left with only one option.”
Environmental groups have pushed McAuliffe to oppose drilling regardless of whether the state gets any money, but cheered his decision anyway.
“It’s just really good news that McAuliffe is standing up for the Virginia coast,” said Deborah Murray, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville.
Murray noted that the governors of North Carolina and South Carolina oppose drilling.
And the Business Alliance for Protecting the Atlantic Coast, a group representing thousands of East Coast businesses, says local governments up and down the Atlantic seaboard, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk, have passed resolutions against oil drilling.
“We’re very glad and think it’s time for Washington to listen,” Murray said.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, likewise registered his opposition, citing the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 as examples of the potential for “significant and long-lasting damage to Virginia’s economy,” including commercial fisheries, tourism and the environment.
“Given significant growth and development in alternate forms of energy, the risk of future exploration of oil and gas development off the coast of Virginia constitutes an unnecessary risk,” Herring wrote, noting that Virginia is the country’s leading producer of hard clams and the East Coast’s leading producer of oysters and “marine products,” with the dockside value of landings totaling nearly $200 million in 2015.
“Virginia does not desire to risk suffering a loss of economic opportunity or failing of our important natural resources,” Herring wrote. “The federal government should not force this risk upon us.”
Miles Morin, executive director of the Virginia Petroleum Council, part of the American Petroleum Institute, an oil-and-gas industry group, said shutting Virginia off from offshore development would be short-sighted.
Old surveys indicate that there are about 2.4 billion barrels of oil and 24.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the Mid-Atlantic portion of the Outer Continental Shelf, which runs roughly from Virginia to Georgia. New technology for identifying reserves means those numbers could be understated, Morin has said.
“It’s high time Virginians felt the benefits of harnessing our state’s vast energy resources. As the governor has previously stated, 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 commonwealth,” Morin said in a statement. “We support necessary environmental protections and state revenue sharing from energy development and stand ready to work with Gov. McAuliffe and the Virginia Congressional delegation to make safe offshore development a reality for Virginia consumers and workers through the next five-year plan.”