July 31, 2017
By: Bruce Thompson
Earlier this month, the City of Norfolk joined every major coastal community in Virginia — including my hometown of Virginia Beach — to oppose offshore drilling. I wholeheartedly applaud these localities for taking a stand and seeking to protect communities and critical economies from the significant risks that offshore drilling poses to our commonwealth.
Those risks to our coastal economy and Virginia’s economy are just not worth it. The Obama administration tried to open our coast to drilling a few years ago, but changed course in the face of overwhelming opposition from business owners and coastal communities. After recognizing the full impact of offshore drilling on the coast, Virginia Beach went from supporting offshore drilling a few years ago to coming out strongly against any plan to drill off its coast. Unfortunately, it seems some of our leaders in Washington didn’t get the message.
The Trump administration has reopened discussion on what all of us along the coast thought was an open and shut case, and they are now seeking input from governors in coastal states before outlining their plan for offshore drilling. Gov. McAuliffe has a great opportunity to show his support for coastal communities, our robust ocean economy and everything that attracts millions of visitors and dollars to Virginia’s beaches and coast every year.
As a business owner, a leader in the hospitality industry and resident of Virginia Beach, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone would consider opening up the Atlantic to offshore drilling. A scenic and safe environment is critically important to attracting tourism — and oil and gas drilling has no place in that. Case in point, I recently visited the California coastline and watched a mother wipe tarballs off her child’s feet after walking in the surf — tarballs routinely wash ashore from the everyday operations of rigs off California’s coast.
Tourism is a booming industry in our state, with $24 billion in revenue and 230,000 jobs in 2016 alone. Along the coast, tourism supports 45,000 jobs and nearly $1 billion in salaries annually — all of which we put at risk with rigs off our coast.
Just look at the Gulf of Mexico. A recent report found that revenue for tourism was 50 percent lower in Gulf counties and parishes where oil rigs and other drilling infrastructure were present. Consider what a 50 percent reduction in Virginia Beach tourism revenue would mean for us locally and for the state coffers.
As the Gulf learned firsthand in 2010, a major spill can wreak economic havoc. In the aftermath of the BP spill, local economies lost tens of billions of dollars in revenue. To add insult to injury, in addition to opening up the Atlantic coast to drilling, the Trump administration is seeking to roll back the protections specifically put in place to prevent disasters like the BP oil spill from happening again.
For business owners like me, the takeaway is clear: risky offshore drilling is just not worth it.
It’s not just tourism at stake. As the largest seafood producer on the East Coast, Virginia’s fishing industry is responsible for more than $1.2 billion in sales and tens of thousands of jobs. Oil spills and pollution from offshore drilling would put those jobs — and the state’s 50 commercial fishery species — at risk.
Even without a major spill, our coastal economy would pay a steep price if the Trump administration’s plan moves forward.
So it should come as no surprise that business leaders have been on the front lines in the effort to protect Virginia’s coasts. The Virginia Beach Restaurant Association, the Virginia Beach Hotel Association, and the statewide Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association all oppose offshore drilling. Fortunately, we’re not going it alone. Virginia’s coastal communities have now spoken out against opening up the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling, and elected officials are working across the aisle to protect our coast.
In fact, North Carolina’s Gov. Roy Cooper recently joined Republican governors from Maryland and South Carolina in coming out against the Trump administration’s plan to open the Mid- and South Atlantic to offshore drilling for the first time. It’s past time for McAuliffe to stand with our state’s coastal communities — and the businesses that keep our economy strong — and reject this risky plan. Our communities, our businesses, and our economy depend on it.