Republicans pounced on President Obama on Thursday afternoon for his administration’s failure to include Virginia in the final five-year plan for offshore oil and gas drilling.
But it wasn’t just Republicans complaining. Sen. Jim Webb (D) joined the bipartisan dissent.
“I regret that the administration failed to include Virginia in its proposed final five-year lease plan,” Webb said. “Energy exploration . . . would boost domestic energy production, while benefiting the commonwealth’s economy.”
The plan announced Thursday postpones drilling off Virginia’s coast until at least 2017.
“Once again, the Obama administration has demonstrated that they will not allow the safe and responsible development of oil and gas energy resources off of Virginia’s coast,’’ Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) said. “Offshore energy exploration and development would mean thousands of new jobs and millions in new revenue here in the commonwealth. Virginians need the jobs and America needs the energy.”
Webb and Sen. Mark R. Warner (D) introduced a bill last year that would allow oil and natural-gas drilling off the state’s coast.
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.
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 after the deadly explosion in the Gulf of Mexico last year that created the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Obama had announced that Virginia would become one of the first East Coast states to drill offshore. But the administration postponed lease sales after the spill and never included Virginia in subsequent plans.
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 in 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.