Virginia leaders said that they were disappointed that the Obama administration did not include Virginia in the five-year oil and gas leasing plan announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Sens. Jim Webb and Mark Warner, both Democrats, said they will urge the administration to reconsider.
“Oil and gas exploration within the Virginia Outer Continental Shelf--if coupled with an equitable formula for sharing revenues between the state and federal governments--would boost domestic energy production, while benefiting the commonwealth’s economy,’’ Webb said.
Webb and Warner introduced a bill in July that would allow oil and natural gas drilling off the state’s coast starting next year. The Virginia Outer Continental Shelf Energy Production Act of 2011 would increase the area open to exploration and production and direct half of any leasing revenues to be paid to Virginia to support a range of projects, including land and water conservation efforts, development of clean energy resources, transportation projects and other infrastructure improvement efforts across the state.
“This is disappointing, because the safe, responsible development of offshore energy resources has broad support from Virginians and among the bipartisan elected leadership of the state,’’ Warner said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who has made offshore drilling one of his administration’s top priorities, was also disappointed, his office said.
Most of Virginia’s elected officials — regardless of political party — have expressed interest in drilling, saying production would bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the financially strapped state. But many have expressed caution since the deadly explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last year that created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Obama announced last year that Virginia would become one of the first East Coast states to drill offshore. Companies were to start bidding on contracts to conduct exploratory drilling in Virginia’s waters 50 miles off the coast in 2011 or 2012. But the administration postponed the sales after the spill.
The last study of the Atlantic Ocean by the federal government, conducted two decades ago, estimates that at least 130 million barrels of oil and at least 1.14 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be off Virginia’s coast. That’s equal to the amount of oil used in six days and the amount of gas used in less than a month in the United States.
Many experts think tests on similar geographic areas in other parts of the world and limited seismic work off Virginia’s coast indicate that there is far more oil and natural gas offshore, although no one has been able to show accurately what is there because of federal restrictions.