The Virginia Pilot
July 10, 2017
THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, only a few years ago, floated the idea of opening the Atlantic coastal shelf to oil and gas exploration.
President Barack Obama believed his White House could help accelerate the domestic energy production revolution happening under his watch. And he proposed advancing and expanding clean- and green-energy development while also allowing for expanded fossil fuel exploration.
Naturally, the plan was opposed by environmentalists, many of whom considered the president’s proposal a betrayal of trust. However, the Obama administration also received dissent from another, perhaps less likely, source: the United States military.
The Pentagon strongly opposed drilling off the Atlantic coast — and particularly any activity in the waters along Virginia. Leaders of the armed forces, especially the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, consider the area essential to training maneuvers and operations.
In March 2016, the military weighed in on the Obama administration’s proposal, outlining its objections to the Department of the Interior. Pentagon spokesman Matthew Allen told The Washington Post that a significant portion of the area being eyed for drilling conflicts with areas needed for readiness.
“These live training events are fundamental to the ability of our airmen, sailors, and marines to attain and sustain the highest levels of military readiness,” Allen said in a statement. “Additionally, [the Defense Department] conducts major systems testing activities in the mid-Atlantic region that are also important to military readiness.”
When one also takes into account that drilling off the commonwealth’s coast could disrupt shipping lanes to several of the nation’s most important ports, including the natural harbor in Hampton Roads, and that this region is home to several critical shipbuilding facilities, the growing din of opposition soon grew deafening.
In March 2016, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell bowed to that outcry in announcing that the southeast — Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia — would be removed from the list of areas for possible exploration.
“It simply doesn’t make sense to move forward with any lease sales in the coming five years,” she said at the time.
So in December — after the election of President Donald Trump, but before leaving office — President Obama approved a five-year moratorium on drilling for oil and gas in the Atlantic shelf.
Four months later, however, Trump signed an executive order to revisit that decision, announcing that the United States would encourage energy exploration in the Outer Continental Shelf, including parts of the Atlantic affected by Obama’s moratorium.
The order says that decisions would be made in consultation with the secretary of defense, but that “because the Department of Defense is one of the largest consumers of energy in the United States, domestic energy production also improves our nation’s military readiness.”
Now, there may be nothing the new president enjoys more than overturning the actions of his predecessor. But in this case, the conditions remain the same — and Trump’s assertion that greater exploration would benefit military readiness is dead wrong.
In fact, the opposite is true. That’s what the Pentagon told the Obama administration little more than a year ago, and it’s precisely what military leaders must tell the commander-in-chief now.
But Virginians should not allow those who wear the uniform to do that heavy lifting alone.
On July 3, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a division of the Department of the Interior, began accepting public comments for “Preparation of 2019-2024 National Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.”
Citizens interested in registering their feelings about this program — perhaps by encouraging officials to consider the potential harm to marine life, tourism and, of course, national security — can do so online at bit.ly/SubmitDrillingComment.
That website provides some background information about the program, including plans for drilling in the Atlantic. Citizens also can send comments by mail to Ms. Kelly Hammerle, National Program Manager, BOEM, 45600 Woodland Rd., Mailstop VAM-LD, Sterling, VA 20166.
All of Hampton Roads has a vested interest in protecting its coasts for a number of reasons, and citizens should make sure that Washington knows why.
That includes the military’s perspective — which helped Obama recognize the folly of his proposal — and which should carry considerable weight once again.